A film review by Craig J. Koban January 18, 2015


2015, PG-13, 109 mins.


Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills  /  Famke Janssen as Lenore  /  Maggie Grace as Kim  /  Forest Whitaker as Franck Dotzler  /  Dougray Scott as Stuart St John


Directed by Oliver Megaton  /  Written  by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

It could easily be argued – and with reasonable levels of merit – that TAKEN 2 was completely unnecessary.  It was, after all, a sequel that existed primarily to make a buck and to reap the benefits that 2008’s TAKEN created after becoming a sleeper action film hit.  

The first film was a lean, mean, and efficiently done thriller involving a clandestine CIA man with “a particular set of skills” that had to save his daughter from evil European sex slave traffickers (every daddy’s worst nightmare scenario).  TAKEN 2 felt superfluous at best and was perfunctory from beginning to end, but it relished in showing star Liam Neeson – a dramatic actor that sort of re-invented his film career as a middle-aged action hero with the first TAKEN – becoming a one-man army yet again to save his family from dastardly Albanians.  

Both films were trash, but wickedly enjoyable trash. 

Now comes the inevitable – yet somewhat laughable – TAKEN 3, which, much like its direct predecessor, really has no motive for existing outside of financial imperatives for the studio that wants to continue to cash in on this surprise juggernaut of a franchise.  I derived much giddy pleasure in seeing Neeson mow his way through most of Paris in the first film and, to be fair, it was sinfully entertaining seeing him do much of the same in TAKEN 2 (granted, the hero was the one taken with his family to change things up a bit).  Yet, in TAKEN 3 no one is really “taken," per se, as much as Bryan Mills is one the run as a fugitive for a crime he didn’t commit, which leaves one pondering the validity of the title in the first place.  Series creators/writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen are clearly running out of novel ideas for the franchise, which leaves desperation tainting TAKEN 3 in more obvious ways than ever. 



So, yes, to use the word taken in this film's title is more than than a tad misleading, but THE FUGITIVE was already…ahem…taken.  Another misstep here is that TAKEN 3 takes place ostensibly on American soil, which robs the series of its B-grade, Eurotrash action cinema flavoring.  The film begins soon after the events of the second film and continues the story of the single unluckiest family in movie history, showing patriarch Bryan (Neeson, still as reliably stalwart and wonderfully imposing as ever) dealing with his wife Lenore’s (Famke Janssen) new marriage to millionaire Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott).  Bryan has grown chummy with his ex, which leads to Stuart politely asking him to leave her be…for the time being.  To complicate matters is the fact that Bryan’s daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is pregnant, but is hiding it from her father.  

Cue soap opera music here. 

After having an awkward, but fairly amicable conversation with Stuart about the need to give Lenore some space to allow her new marriage to work, Bryan comes home one day to find that Lenore has been murdered in his own apartment and it has essentially been set up to make it look like he was primarily responsible.  Of course, Bryan dispatches with the officers on the scene with ease and escapes custody, which leads to him going on the run to desperately attempt to clear his name.  Pressures mount, though, when a shrewd and cunning police detective (Forest Whitaker, in his umpteenth police detective role) arrives to piece together the peculiar series of clues left behind that will either incarcerate Bryan or set him free.  Thankfully, Bryan has CIA pals, an underground safe house, and ample access to caches of weapons and spy surveillance gear to help him stay one step ahead of the collective wits of the police. 

Okay, as for TAKEN 3’s positives…Liam Neeson still remains the proverbial man.  At 63-years-old, it’s still kind of an awe-inspiring trip to see the former Oskar Schindler and Alfred Kinsey dexterously beat his way through human obstacles throughout this entire ludicrous series.  The fact that I’ve invested myself as fully as I have in the franchise is a testament to the unending charisma of its lead star, who crafts an action hero that goes refreshingly against the mould of the muscle bound and chiseled human specimens that have populated the genre of old.  That is not to say that Bryan Mills is a thespian challenge for the Oscar winning performer, to be sure.  Yet, not many esteemed dramatic actors of his creed could be such a plausibly stoic, grim, and sturdy presence in such a woefully ridiculous action series like Neeson.  He’s the glue that keeps everything in TAKEN 1, 2 and even 3 together. 

Still, for as much good will as Neeson brings to this film, TAKEN 3 is a mess of extreme proportions on multiple levels.  One thing that it forgets is that TAKEN 1 and 2 were wicked fun because Bryan eliminated his prey, one after the other, because he wasn’t an underdog.  In TAKEN 3 he’s delegated to being the wrongfully accused underdog on the run, which doesn’t suit his character well at all.  Tension is non-existent through the story because Bryan is (a) so limitlessly lethal and (b) he has access to CIA tech that gives him opportunities to hack security cameras, download video files, secure GPS coordinates, and so forth.  There's rarely one moment in TAKEN 3 when audiences will be left wondering whether or not Bryan will be captured.  There is not one enemy, police officer, or physical/mental obstruction that Bryan is not able to go through with relative swiftness.  The man’s headstrong intrepidness and ingenuity would make Batman blush with envy. 

The only thing we are really left with are the action sequences, which usually can save just about any witless action film from completely imploding on itself.  Unfortunately, Olivier Megaton’s (whom helmed the last TAKEN) direction is an editorial disaster.  How many times have I lamented over the years about how modern action directors film action scenes with a dizzying flurry of shots, choreography that gives no sensation of spatial relationships or geography, and then edit them together with spastic and seizure inducing cuts?  When will today’s directors keep the camera still and allow viewers to linger on shots in these types of films?  The cutting of sequences in TAKEN 3 takes hyperactive to a whole new egregious extreme.  Even potentially glorious moments – like a convenience store battle between Bryan and some nefarious goons or a freeway car chase sequence – are a nightmarish blur of insanely fast cuts and eye straining camera pans.  The action of TAKEN 3 – a selling point for the series as a whole – is shocking in its inept staging this go-around.   

TAKEN 3’s ludicrous plot, as one final nail to it qualitative coffin, is also based on a series of would-be surprising double crosses that are never once startling and the whole undercurrent of Whitaker’s investigation honing in on – yes! – warm bagels and text conversations.  Add to the dubious mix a villain that’s hardly a presence in the film at all and what we are left with is a TAKEN entry that's more cheaply disposable than its previous two.  I’ve been more than fair to this series thus far.  I admired the bruised knuckled and teeth clenched tenacity of Neeson headlining them.  I’ve enjoyed their delectably unwholesome storylines.  I enjoyed their unapologetically exploitation/grindhouse cinema look and feel.  Yet, I just couldn’t completely lose myself in the staggeringly unlucky plight of Bryan Mills…for a third time.  The only thing being taken in TAKEN 3 is your time and hard earned money.  You should secure it. 

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