On the Silver Screen – Taken 3
The Taken franchise reaches a third installment with Taken 3 where Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills is on the run from the law after being accused of murdering his ex wife Lenore (Famke Janssen).
Taken was a nice surprise in 2008 because it put Liam Neeson in an action heavy role and was actually really believable. I had never considered Neeson’s viability as an action star -and no, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace doesn’t count– before that point.
Neeson’s action status did prove to be something of a double edged sword as Taken became the film to copy with some less than stellar attempts to capitalise on that success. Some of them even had Liam Neeson in them and one of them was a sequel that managed to be almost totally unwatchable.
Is this film a return to form for the series? Actually sort of, it’s a lot better than the second one for sure but doesn’t rise to anywhere near the quality of the first one. Given that sequels are so rarely better than the original this is no real surprise but getting something halfway watchable is an achievement in itself.
The title of this film relates to the franchise more than a description of the events of the film as nobody really gets “Taken” here -well sort of at the end- in a way that causes the story to happen. Mills spends the majority of this film on the run from the authorities who believe he’s a murderer and using his particular set of skills to evade capture while he investigates Lenore’s murder.
It’s all fairly solid if a little unspectacular. Neeson is as likeable as ever playing Mills and I did root for him to succeed throughout the film. Given how skilled and invincible he is I never really felt like there was anything that was going to stop him but it was good to watch the film build to the obvious conclusion.
Both the second film and this installment mark a milestone in Mills’ daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace) life. Last film it was passing her driving test and this one deals with the prospect of her becoming a parent herself. Grace does well enough with what she’s given and has a lot more to do than in previous films. I wonder if they are trying to set up a situation where she takes over the franchise. I really hope not but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Much of the anchor work for Neeson’s Mills is done through Kim and his unflinching desire to protect her from the big bad world. It’s a little obvious but it helps add a sense of depth to Mills as he has something tethering him to a semi normal life. Almost every sentence spoken by Mills that doesn’t involve threatening someone is used to reinforce how much his family mean to him. It clearly outlines the personal stakes in a reasonably effective way.
One thing this film lacks is a villain that feels threatening. We don’t find out who is actually behind everything until well into the third act and up until that point it feels like Mills is violently powering through a series of false leads until he finally gets to the bottom of it.
Forest Whitaker’s Frank Dotzler heads up the task force assigned to hunt Mills down. I like that he Dotzler isn’t portrayed as an idiot to make Mills seem impressive by comparison. His skills are impressive enough so he demands a competent adversary. On a couple of occasions Dotzler anticipates what Mills will have already thought of and chooses not to waste resources following it up. The relationship between the two characters is reminiscent of the 1993 Harrison Ford/Tommy Lee Jones movie The Fugitive. It’s nowhere near as good as that film but the inspiration is clear.
The actual execution of the story is a pretty mixed bag. There are lots of moments where information that becomes available through various contrivances that generally overcomplicate the plot. Conspiracies within conspiracies are generally never a good idea and this film has those in spades.
In terms of action the film is full of shaky cam rapid cutting that just distracts from what’s going on. I thought that this style of action had gone completely out of style but apparently not. Some of the action scenes were pretty nicely done but most of them fell victim to this outdated style.
Liam Neeson returns to the franchise that made him a viable action star in the -potentially- final installment in the Taken franchise. In this installment Bryan Mills is accused of murdering his ex-wife and has to run from the law while investigating the murder for himself.
All in all it’s not bad. It’s far better than the second one without matching the quality of the first. At times the plot is a little overcomplicated and it does feel like Mills is mowing his way through an endless supply of false information before finally getting to the truth.
Forest Whitaker does a good job as a competent head of the task force chasing down Mills. He exhibits a few examples of intelligence in his pursuit and feels like a viable threat for someone with a particular set of skills.
The film suffers from the terribly outdated shaky cam rapid cutting action scene framing that makes many action scenes a confusing mess. Some of them were entertaining but most of them fall victim to this visual mess.