The first two Taken movies, at their core, were basically about a man willing to go beyond the limits of the law in order to get his family back. Liam Neeson’s character, Bryan Mills, is a man with a special set of skills, and is used to working in the shadows, far beyond the reach of conventional civilization. While he often did reprehensible things, it was easy enough to accept that he was dealing with exceptional circumstances. Taken 3 does not benefit from such circumstances. This is a story of a man who commits a series of terrible crimes in the process of trying to prove that he didn’t commit a particular crime.
The crime in question is the murder of Bryan's ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). The movie starts with Lenore confessing to him that her new marriage isn’t really working out, and that she misses him. Then one day he arrives at his home to find her dead in his bed. Police quickly arrive at his home, but Bryan easily escapes. He then sets out to prove that he didn’t kill his ex-wife. He also wants to make sure that his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is safe. His investigation brings him right into the crosshairs of a vicious Russian gangster.
It all feels overly complicated. What made the first movie so effective was its simplicity. Its narrative was basically a straight line, with the main character invariably moving forward through a succession of threats. This third movie fancies itself a mystery, and wastes a lot of time setting up twists and red herrings that aren’t really all that clever. The twists only make the plot seem murkier. It is already pretty tough to justify the actions of the main character. It is much tougher when he doesn’t really seem to know why he’s doing any of it.
It is evident at this point that no one involved in the production is all that invested in making a good Taken film. The story feels hastily assembled, as if they just took the script for The Fugitive and made copious use of the Replace tool. Director Olivier Megaton, in spite of his genre-appropriate pen name, doesn’t really do a whole lot to make the action coherent or watchable. Megaton often chooses quantity over quality, using multiple shots to capture action when one will do. It should feel kinetic, but the end effect is mostly dizzying and unappealing.
The film’s biggest asset is of course its star, Liam Neeson. While there is little novelty in seeing Liam Neeson beat up people anymore, the actor’s size and his commitment to saying even the most ridiculous lines of dialogue still often makes for entertaining cinema. It feels as though the filmmakers are playing a bit of a game at points, trying to see what lines they can get Neeson to say with his gravelly seriousness. “I have low blood sugar,” he says at one point, with all the seriousness that Neeson can muster. While this is pretty funny, one has to think that there are better uses for such a talented actor’s time.
Taken 3 is a huge step down for a film franchise that has never set lofty standards. The first Taken was a really simple bit of action filmmaking, stripping down the entire genre to a man, a city, and a goal. Paired with stylish, effective filmmaking, that first movie quickly made a connection with fans of the genre. Taken 3 pretty much throws all that away. It is mired in silly plot complications, and it action is edited to the point of incomprehensibility.