A warning to our more sensitive readers: there will be mild spoilers involved in this review. Though the fact that there’s anything to spoil at all is kind of a failing in itself, considering the only thing that SHOULD be a spoiler in a Taken film is how badly Liam Neeson murders the main dude.
So surprise, surprise: Taken 3, the purported final chapter in writer/producer Luc Bessons’ inexplicable trilogy isn’t as bad as all most critics are saying it is. Which doesn’t translate to it actually being good or anything. But for people who are deeply invested in the continuing adventures of Liam Neeson (playing himself), it more or less gets the job done.
And I know this because there was a dude sitting three rows behind me that was very vocal about it.
But we’ll come back to that gentleman in a bit…
So, having rescued his daughter in the first film; then getting kidnapped and leaving it up to his daughter to save him, which lasted all of five minutes before he said “Fuck it, I’ll do it myself” in Taken 2, who gets taken this time?
(Well, the daughter again, sort of. But that’s more of a third act technicality…)
No, this time Liam Neeson is on the run, after he is framed for the murder of his ex-wife, played by Famke Janssen (who, shockingly, made it out of the last movie alive. I swear, watch it again: it’s like they meant to kill her in that one and then got high and forgot)
Neeson is chased by Forest Whitaker, playing Special Agent Tommy Lee Jones (AUTHOR’S NOTE: May not be actual character name), who hunts him down as he tries to clear his name and do the vengeance thing he’s finely honed to a science over the course of these three movies, as well as the other movies that you probably thought were part of the series but actually weren’t, like Non-Stop (a.k.a. ‘Plane Taken’), Unknown (a.k.a. ‘Brain Taken’), and of course The Grey (a.k.a. “At First We Were Going To Call It ‘Plane Taken’, But Then The Plane Crashed, So Now It’s ‘Taken With Wolves’”).
Just from reading that synopsis, you might already have a hint of where this movie goes wrong. The beauty of the first Taken was its streamlined, no frills approach. The story was a pretext to move Liam Neeson across Paris murdering everyone who got in his way. The only time he stopped murdering was to ask where to find the next person who needed murdering. And then he would murder the dude he was questioning. Because better safe than sorry.
So Neeson’s infamous “particular set of skills” basically revolve around murder (and some light torture). But now he’s running around dodging cops, investigating stuff and having to remember plot points, which is not playing to his strengths. Which, just so we’re clear, is murdering people.
And frankly, it’s not even a plot worth spoiling. I had pretty much figured it all out before the end of the pre-credits sequence. But if you don’t, not to worry; a ridiculous amount of the dialogue is dedicated to hashing over every last plot point, often more than once. This happens so often that if I timed it right, I could have spent 85 minutes in the bathroom and still not have missed anything, storywise.
(Also, Dougray Scott plays Janssen’s current husband, which is a spoiler in and of itself, if you think about it…)
Mind you, predictability and stupidity is not a problem with action movies. In many cases, it is encouraged.
A larger problem with action movies is when the action is not very good.
Taken 3, like the first sequel, was directed by Olivier Megaton, who has been coasting on the inherent awesomeness of his last name for far too long now. He is, strictly speaking, a terrible director of action. He started out botching Transporter 3, and somehow has only gotten worse from there. Clearly, Megaton is the go-to guy when it comes to killing off Besson’s most lucrative franchises.
So, glass half full, then: it’s nice that he has a skill set in these harsh economic times.
Utterly oblivious to spatial coherence and almost disdainful of lending any kind of rhythm to his cutting (in the most egregious example, a two second sequence of Liam Neeson climbing a fence somehow requires six or seven shots), Megaton makes a hash of the action when it does come. All that kinetic motion, going nowhere and doing nothing.
So the action is poorly shot and horrendously cut, but on the bright side, thanks to the needlessly convoluted plot, there’s not that much of it anyway.
So if it fails as an action movie, which is the only thing it needed to get right in order to get a pass, then how is it possible I’m giving it a (minor) pass?
The answer is as obvious as it is inevitable.
Because it stars Liam Neeson.
Among film critics, the consensus is clear here: we all think that Neeson is slumming in these films (and considering that at literally every Liam Neeson movie I’ve seen in the past three years, I’ve gotten a preview for the next Liam Neeson movie, that’s quite a lot of slumming). But what we often fail to mention is that he’s a really good actor that is actually committed to making these movies work.
He never half-asses it, even when most people wouldn’t notice if he did. And that’s a thing that comes in handy when a movie is as misguided as this one.
Let’s put it like this: if this were a Jason Statham movie (and I should say at this point I look forward to Liam Neeson action movies far more than Stathams’ output), the scenes where we’re supposed to care about his loved ones would be excruciating. And this is the advantage you get when you turn an actual actor into an action hero: They can make the non-action parts more than just a horrible slog. Which is very helpful when the action turns out to be the worst part of the movie.
So Neeson is his usually excellent self, and everybody else does what they need to do, which more or less entails staying out of his way as he tries to right this sinking ship. Which means, surprisingly, that Whitaker is the weak link here.
It’s hard to hold him responsible, though, because he has literally no character to play. The only thing that’s asked of him is to be “The Guy That Figures Things Out Five Minutes After Liam Neeson”. Which I guess puts him miles ahead of everyone else in the movie, but doesn’t provide for a whole hell of a lot to chew on from a performance standpoint. They try to go for a bit of a twist at the end, but what it amounts to is him saying “Hey, nothing onscreen indicated this, but I was kind of awesome this whole time” and us having to take his word for it.
In the end, Taken 3 lacks the gleefully over-the-top entertainment value of the first two movies, and makes for a poor finale to the trilogy. Which makes sense, because who the hell looks at Taken and thinks “Yeah, there’s definitely more story to be told here in the first place?”
But it has to be said that I might not be the voice of the audience on this one. In the interest of being fair and balanced, I’d like to turn the remainder of the review over to the aforementioned fellow sitting three rows behind me, who said all of the following things in his not-indoor voice:
“Wooo!” “Hell yeah!” “Oh, I like that!” “Ooh, he messed that dude up!” “You in trouble now, dude!”
“Ohh, you done pissed him off now!”