[Produced by Canal +, Cine+, EuropaCorp & M6 Films]
[Distributed by 20th Century Fox]
Directed by Olivier Megaton
Written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Starring Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Dougray Scott, Maggie Grace, Sam Spruell & Famke Janssen
Synopsis: Ex-government operative Bryan Mills is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name.
There is a particularly insidious knee jerk defence of films like the Taken franchise as “it’s ONLY an action movie guys”. This is to imply that action films naturally pale in comparison to their cinematic counterparts; as if a strongly constructed piece of action cinema is somehow worth less than a poorly made drama. Frankly, the idea that the action genre is stagnant and devoid of merit is an opinion one could only form if all they do is watch movies like Taken 3.
The first Taken film was conceived in a EuropaCorp (writer Luc Besson’s successful production company) laboratory as a cynical, jingoistic and xenophobic film; carefully crafted to appeal to lowest common denominator American audiences. Why else would a European company produce a film series that makes Europe look so terrible?
Predictably, the first film went down a storm stateside, capturing the zeitgeist of xenophobia with a terrible script, paper thin characters, non-existent chemistry, and toothless action. As such, it has now spawned two sequels, in a sequence of diminishing returns.
The Taken films are carried almost exclusively by Liam Neeson playing Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA superman whose only job is to smile when his family are on screen, or scowl when facing an enemy, before they are brought down by a deft combination of pretend slap fighting (masquerading as martial arts) and schizophrenic editing.
The first film saw Mills’ daughter kidnapped by a Turkish/Albanian/Armenian/indiscriminate dodgy European sex trafficking ring and forced him to come to France and kill them all. The second installment took Mills and his family (who at the time were conveniently threatening to get back together with him) on a security assignment in Turkey, where the family members of all the people that were killed in the first one sought revenge.
For a moment, the second film threatened to rise above its station and deal with the complex emotions of fathers and their children, but instead just degenerated into the same old shooty, slapfest mess, squandering any chance of quality.
Taken 3 is perhaps the most mystifying of all, as it has very little to do with the previous two installments. In fact, viewers would be excused for confusing Taken 3 with any of the other generic thrillers Neeson has churned out of late – it could just as easily be Run All Night, Non-Stop, or Unknown. Actually, it couldn’t because while those films are solid, but unremarkable thrillers, Taken 3 is the sound of a franchise that began on empty, scraping the bottom of a rotting, putrid barrel.
Speaking of mystifying, this isn’t Neeson trying to get his end away; he’s actually arriving to surprise his daughter for her birthday. Creepy.
Due to the rise of Islamophobia, EuropaCorp made the wise decision to steer clear of killing religious brown people, and instead sets its unambitious sight on the far more amenable Russian gangster tropes, played lifelessly by a couple of recognisable British television actors. Sam Spruell does his best Russian snarl as stereotypical mobster Oleg Malankov, but he’s used so sparingly that by the end even he comes across as apathetic to his situation.
Unfortunately, this also serves to aid the film in feeling completely disconnected from the earlier Taken story. The second film very deliberately set things up for another revenge tale, but this is abandoned in favour of making a generic thriller, this time backed by Hollywood. Taken 3 swaps the exotic setting of old, for a very bland American suburbia setting. Complete with a PG13 rating, Taken 3 becomes just another mindless action film; and one that invests far too much time in being dull and laborious.
Bloody gun battles are replaced by bloodless car chases, filled with poorly-implemented cheap CGI that rattle along with all the energy of a corpse. It takes over an hour before the combat gets close and personal, and then it’s obscured almost entirely by overzealous editing that does its best to mask the film’s shortcomings, but sadly only works to highlight them.
The plot is nonsensical and predictable from the start, as soon as Dougray Scott drags his slimy persona into view. The guilt is literally dripping from his pores – why else would a character previously played by Xander Berkley, and then only mentioned by name in Taken 2, suddenly feature so heavily? Also, congratulations to the Taken team for picking two actors who look so alike to play the same role.
Let us not forget Forest Whittaker, because he really hopes we will; he shows up to pick up his pay cheque for his work on failed TV show spin-off Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour, and just kind of hangs around until the film reaches its tired conclusion. Whittaker’s role is embarrassing here, and the former Oscar winner just sleepwalks his way through, alternately stroking his long beard, staring into space, or fiddling with a chess piece he inexplicably carries around with him at all times. It’s a role that he’s already done to death in other, better productions.
It should be noted that action cinema does not need to be bloody in order to be effective (although most of the greats are), but it doesn’t help your case when you feature a shot of a gangster in his underpants, arms stretched out, head tilted back, in a sort of messiah-esque pose “bleeding out” after being shot in the chest three times – with nothing even resembling blood. There are no wounds on his body. No clothes to obscure them. And yet you display it so flagrantly? That’s not just bad film-making; that’s apathy in motion.
As bad as some of that is, by far the film’s worst trait is its editing style. Rapid cut editing, when utilised effectively, can be a powerful tool, but here it’s present in every single scene. Dialogue scenes become frenzied, violent affairs, with the process of buying bagels divided into five jarring cuts within a few seconds that make less than zero sense. It’s a constant assault – so much so that when the action finally arrives, the editing renders it neutered and inert.
In the end, Taken 3 is a textbook example of a franchise spinning its wheels, made near unwatchable by an incomprehensible editing style that is trying desperately to enhance an experience that just needs to be put out of its misery. It’s akin to feeding a dying animal buckets of cocaine and hoping for the best – you may have the best intentions, but you’re just making it worse.