Subtitle: “I sat through this so you don’t have to”. About fifteen minutes into Tak3n—surely the year’s stupidest title—I desperately wanted to walk out. But I don’t walk out of movies on principal, so I white-knuckled it through one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while, which is saying something because sometimes I seek out bad movies specifically to review them. But this one takes the cake. Taken 3 is the wrong combination of boring, repetitive, and ludicrous, and not even Liam Neeson’s usually-compelling screen presence can save it.
Directed by industrial magnet Olivier Megaton from a script written on the back of a fast-food wrapper, Taken 3 makes the same mistake the Transporter franchise did before it—besides hiring Megaton as a director—in trying to take what was a one-off concept centered on style and turn it into a story arc featuring characters we actually care about. Taken was a surprise hit because it introduced us to the surprisingly fun stock character of Liam Neeson Revenge Man. Neeson is a great actor who doesn’t hold himself above working in genre films, and over the last seven years he’s seemed to enjoy his career renaissance as an action star. The roles don’t ask much of him (although last fall’s A Walk Among the Tombstones offered a little more than just face-punching), but he performs them as if they’re actual characters and not just paychecks. But he can’t save Taken 3 from itself, and his boredom with the Bryan Mills character is apparent.
The first part of Taken 3 attempts to invest us in the ongoing story of Middle-Aged People’s Romantical Problems as Mills’s ex-wife Lenny (Famke Janssen) establishes that she is leaving her rich husband, Stuart (Dougray Scott, who must rue taking a role in Mission: Impossible II, which kept him from accepting the role of Wolverine, every day of his life). The problem is, we don’t care about Lenny and Mills as a couple because the Taken movies have never been about Lenny and Mills. They’ve been about Bad People doing Bad Things to Mills’s family and then Mills taking revenge on them. This time, the Bad People are much closer to home because Mills has already decimated all of Eastern European organized crime.
Franchises work because the audience comes to care about characters enough to watch them on continued adventures. Franchises that can’t establish characters like that ultimately fail (see also: Jurassic Park, Transporter, Underworld, Jaws) because there’s no connective tissue to sustain interest. Taken worked as a concept, but who ever gave a sh*t about Bryan Mills as a character? Answer: No one, which is why each movie has gotten progressively worse. And the worst elements of Taken 3 are those that attempt to make us care about his human problems—his ex-wife romance drama and his pregnant daughter. The movie grinds to a painful halt any time that stuff comes up.
What does work, though, is uber-capable Mills squaring off against a smart cop played by Forest Whitaker. Whitaker actually seems engaged with the material, and Neeson is obviously more interested when he’s interacting with Whitaker. If the whole movie had just been Mills versus Smart Cop, it could have been a fun action flick, if nothing else.
But because the studio computers spitting out the formula insisted on “human elements” to make it seem like actual people participated in the making of this movie, we’re stuck with boring family sh*t no one cares about. Please don’t bother with Taken 3. There’s nothing redeemable about it. And then it has the balls to end in such a way that suggests they could come back for a Taken 4 at some point, which is just adding insult to injury.
Attached - more photos of Liam Neeson at the Taken 3 New York screening.