There’s a sequence early in Taken 3 which I presume is supposed to be a tense on-foot chase; across streets, through alleyways, over fences, Liam Neeson lumbers around like a big Irish manatee with the LAPD hot on his heels. They can’t catch him, obviously. He’s the hero. But Jesus Christ, how can they not catch him? I could catch him. My daughter could catch him, and she can’t even walk yet. If he was moving any slower he’d be going backwards. His eventual escape is, I imagine, the point when moviegoers across the world whipped out their phones and typed The Question: “How old is Liam Neeson, exactly?”
He’s 62. And Taken 3 will forever be remembered as the movie which made us all realize it. You wanted this series to have a legacy, did you? Well, now it has. I hope you’re happy.
Why is our hero running away from the boys in blue rather than karate chopping his way through Europe again? Because Luc Besson is running out of ideas, that’s why. Although it certainly didn’t help that Neeson’s gracefully-aging semi-retired CIA superman Bryan Mills killed not only all of the dirty human traffickers in the first movie, but also their entire surviving family in the second. It isn’t that there’s nobody left to get taken – there’s nobody left to take them.
There is, however, someone left to kill them. Well… one of them. So, Famke Janssen’s beautiful face is written out of the movie in the first act, Bryan is summarily framed for the murder, and somehow his dopey-as-fuck daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, still suspiciously childlike and enrolled in school despite being in her mid-twenties) manages to survive again. What must we do to have this character killed off?
Hopefully the answer isn’t to sit through another of these things – T4ken, I can see it now – because this is a series which probably shouldn’t have ever seen a sequel and certainly shouldn’t have seen two. There was a certain magic about the original idea; the novelty of seeing Oskar Schindler rampaging through Paris, perhaps, or the way it struck a perfect balance between serious action and outright gonzo nonsense. It’s still a remarkably solid movie even in hindsight. Taken 2 was a lot worse – it was significantly less defensible in its lunacy – but just, just managed to be okay thanks largely to the overall orchestration of the action in a very specific landscape. (I’m talking mostly the goofy grenade bit.)
But Taken 3 is so lazy and overwrought that even I, someone who honestly does like this kind of shit, can’t really defend it beyond the obligatory central performance being genuinely sincere. It’s testament to Liam Neeson’s professionalism that a guy who has at various stages of his career been a Jedi Knight, Ra’s Al Ghul and fucking Zeus, still really cares about playing Bryan Mills. Unfortunately, it seems as though everyone else just turned up to be polite.
Take Forrest Whittaker, for example, a guy with the age and experience to lend some real gravitas to his role as the detective on Mills’ tail – he spends almost all of his time looking at, eating and thinking about bagels. There’s a subplot about Maggie Grace being pregnant, but her one expression isn’t really enough to lend any emotional depth to it. Even Olivier Megaton – a director who named himself Megaton – can’t be arsed with any panache or imagination in the action department. There’re fist-fights, shootouts, car chases, the usual incredibly farfetched surveillance and espionage, but it’s all so hectically-edited that figuring out what’s going on becomes more trouble than it’s worth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an astronomical number of cuts per scene in a movie; there isn’t a single action shot longer than three seconds. I finished watching the thing about an hour ago and I can barely remember anything that happened in it.
The plot certainly doesn’t help, being little more than a low-rent knock-off of The Fugitive with delusions of intellectual superiority. But Taken 3 can’t offer Bryan up as the relatable everyman that Richard Kimble was in that movie: he’s too resourceful, too dangerous, and too indestructible. He survives a car crash that literally nobody could survive. He has weapons hidden in basements of houses nobody knows exists. He can hack into surveillance cameras and police computers and download GPS data and phone records. He even has a team of golfing buddies who double-up as the Expendables whenever he needs a favour.
I’m aware that nobody is watching this for the grounded storytelling, but there’s only so much elaborate convenience one can take. We’re so far past the point of absurdity here that when Sam Spruell shows up as a tattooed, comically-evil Russian murderer frolicking in a hot-tub with some babes it actually comes as a welcome simplification. I’d have much preferred him and Bryan just to scrap it out over a parking space or something.
Maybe it’s ironic that the franchise which re-established Liam Neeson as an unexpectedly essential action star is the very same one which dispensed with some of his immortality. Either way, the material is unquestionably beneath his talents now. Let’s just hope that his very particular set of skills includes the ability to realize that before they make another one.
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