After going after human traffickers in France and breaking it down in Turkey, Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills goes through the Richard Kimble paces in Taken 3. This 2015 actioner is directed by Olivier Megaton and features a screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, but none of that really matters. People don’t go to Taken movies for the art. They go to Taken movies to watch some ass-kicking.
The first thing that jumps out about Taken 3 or TAK3N is that nobody is really, uh, taken. While the other two films in the series followed a predictable pattern, this outing flips the script entirely. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Megaton’s project is more about marketing a character than a story, but it does kind of fiddle with the formula in a way that’s not overly interesting.
The action picks up with Bryan (Neeson), the former covert operative, visiting his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and giving her a big stuffed bear. Later, he invites the ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) over to dinner. She’s married to Stuart (Dougray Scott) and wants to work things out, so Bryan keeps his distance despite some serious feelings for his former flame.
When Lenore is killed, Bryan is fingered as a suspect. Naturally, he fights off the cops and goes on the run because this is a Taken movie and not a resourceful courtroom drama. LAPD Inspector Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) is tasked with bringing the man in, while Bryan is interested in finding out who really killed his ex-wife.
The story is familiar, but Bryan differs from others in his position because he’s such a badass. He knows how to hack security cameras and get information from everywhere, plus he can beat almost anyone up and escape moments of certain death with inexplicable speed. He is a ghost, as Dotzler says, and it’s difficult to hunt and/or bust a ghost. Apparently.
Neeson, let it be said, is fine as Bryan Mills. He’s settled into the role and offers a kind of quiet familiarity. Despite the general dreadfulness of the Taken series, it’s actually kind of nice see Neeson. Much like his presence elevated films like Run All Night and A Walk Among the Tombstones, his turn in Taken 3 is mostly enjoyable.
The same cannot be said for, well, everything else. The supporting characters are drab splotches of clichés, with Kim hiding a secret from dear old dad and Lenore dead as a doornail. Whitaker does his best to articulate some sort of personality behind Dotzler, but he ends up piling too many “quirks” into the pool. He plays with an elastic band and a chess piece? That’s a little on the nose.
The action is frenetic – and not in a good way. Megaton and cinematographer Eric Kress put together a melange of typical action setups, but there are so many cuts and movements that it’s impossible to tell what’s going on. There’s no spatial recognition and the audience never entirely knows where one character is in relation to another, which suggests the staging is poor.
The car chases suffer most. Despite some wide shots, most of the action involving automobiles splutters because Megaton makes hundreds of edits in one sequence. When he unfolds a bigger stunt, like a vehicle flip, he assaults the audience with a whirl of mystifying cuts and hurdles the lens back away from the foreground of the action. It’s impenetrable. And dumb.
Other scenes suffer from similar issues, like a bone-breaking fight in a store. At one point, Mills is firing at a thug nearby. The camera jerks around so much that even the actors seem to forget where they are relative to each other. The use of the mirrored security camera doesn’t help, especially when it finally comes time to have the two get into it.
On top of bland characters and indiscernible action scenes, Taken 3 offers a relatively bloodless feud. There isn’t enough vigour in Mills’ pursuit. It’s too organized, too remarkably passive in construct. There’s no bloody showdown, even if there is a little waterboarding, and it’s hard to connect the hatred Bryan should feel to what Megaton offers on the screen.
The good news, as the poster suggests, is that it all ends here. The bad news is that this is as far from a satisfying conclusion as one can get. Despite Neeson’s efforts, Taken 3 never does much of anything. It feels like a regurgitated TV movie or, worse, a direct-to-DVD Steven Seagal endeavour drained of that star’s inherent oddities. Now that’s rough.