It started as a suspenseful and gripping cautionary tale, an almost required viewing for all parents of offspring preparing for that solo European holiday with friends. Since its origin, the Taken series has quickly spiralled into something resembling the Saw franchise. In the same way that Charles Bronson was unable to abandon the cash cow that was Death Wish, Liam Neeson seems both unwilling and unable to turn down the Taken sequels, regardless of how absurd or far removed they are from the original entry.
The Taken franchise began as an original and very enjoyable action film. Released in 2008, Liam Neeson played a retired CIA operative, Brian Mills, whose daughter is kidnapped by a group of Albanian sex traffickers in Paris. Who can forget Neeson telling his daughter as she cowers under a bed, “Now, the next part is very important … they are going to take you”? Neeson travels to Paris, dispatches the gangsters, causes millions of dollars in property damage and finally, is reunited with his daughter.
Next came the poorly received sequel, Taken 2, involving a holiday in Turkey where now our hero’s wife is taken. The Taken franchise then takes an extended hiatus during which Neeson himself dismisses the idea of a third film. Yet here we stand, two years later, having once again to endure the “no expense spared” marketing blitz leading up to the theatrical and Blu-ray release of Taken 3.
What makes Taken 3 so remarkable, apart from its stunning ineptitude in executing basic action sequences, is the conscious decision to abandon the series’ pre-established Taken formula. By definition, “Taken” implies at least that someone should have kidnapped, or some object of value should have been taken. However, while the franchise was in much need of narrative overhaul, Taken 3 is a film with no connection to its original source material – the only thing that’s been taken is an hour and a half of the audience’s time.
The narrative of Taken 3 centres once again on Brian Mills. This time he isn’t tasked with the retrieval of a kidnapped family member. Instead, he must prove himself innocent of the murder of his wife. Unsurprisingly, as in the previous films in the series, Neeson accomplishes this by dispatching mobsters and once again causing millions of dollars in property damage.
What makes Taken 3 so disappointing — in addition to its dull narrative — is that the film possesses some of the most poorly constructed action sequences of the last decade. While many filmgoers are quick to criticize Michael Bay over his sporadic use of quick cuts in the Transformers films, when compared to those in Taken 3, Bay comes across as subdued. Not only do the action sequences in Taken 3 make it difficult to discern what is actually occurring on the screen, but they can leave the viewer motion sick.
Taken 3 also presents some of the most uninspired villains in recent memory. In what can only be described as paint-by-numbers villains, the antagonists are caricatures that border on parody of the typical Bond bad guy. In several scenes the dialogue involving the villains was so poorly written that viewers will need to be reminded that they are indeed watching an action film and not a Saturday Night Live sketch.
In the end, one is left with the suspicion that in the early stages of the film’s development it had been simply titled “generic Liam Neeson action film A,” and that at some point a FOX executive decided to slap the “Taken” series brand on it for good measure. The film is so incompatible with its predecessors that to title it Taken 3 seems nothing short of misleading. Some more fitting titles could include; “Liam Neeson’s Great Escape”, or “Nothing Has Been Taken”. Regardless of viewers’ preconceived notions of the franchise, the only thing “taken” here is the viewer.