Whether you call it Taken 3 or the more absurdly appropriate Tak3n, Liam Neeson’s latest continues the fine tradition of devaluing the charms of the first film. The original Taken wasn’t very good either, but it had good quotes, good moments, and enough to merit required viewing from any action/revenge movie fan. The concessions you have to make — the “not very good” part — have had a brighter light shone on them with every passing sequel.
I laughed at Taken 3 enough times to deem it entertaining, but the stupidity comes at a cost. I’ve provided a simple bar graph to illustrate what I mean:
This carefully calculated data doesn’t even consider the string of Taken-likes that have arrived in recent years, some of which, like last year’s golden trifecta of A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Equalizer, and the unironically fantastic John Wick make the entire Taken franchise near-obsolete. Even Nonstop, which was dubbed by many to be “Taken on a plane”, turned out to be a far more entertaining film than it had any right to be.
Another graph could illustrate the cross-section of how often the viewer is laughing with the awesome moments in the Taken films or laughing at how poorly acted and edited they are. In this sense Taken 3 at least fares better than its predecessor, with moments of deadly seriousness that can actually be taken seriously, mixed with moments so monumentally stupid that they seem intentional. Somehow it ended up amounting to something more respectable than the 100% ridiculous Taken 2.
But enough graphs and comparisons. What’s important is that while Taken 3 brings the action home to LA — complete with the required LA River moment, cop chases, and suburban fence-hopping — it quickly injects some Eastern Europeans into the plot for Brian (Liam Neeson) to kill. Framed for murder, Brian must both evade the cops and track the real killer. It’s an energetic plot that keeps things interesting enough, but ignores important lessons from the previous films.
The Taken films paint such a criminally evil picture of Eastern European men that it’s a bit absurd that Brian would ever willfully trust one. What’s more, his patented background checks (which he employed on his daughter’s boyfriend in the previous film) seem to completely elude him here. But hey, I guess you have to cut some corners when the franchise demands that its hero exclusively murder those dirty, uncontrollable foreigners.
An aside: I think it’s time for more ethnically diverse criminal organizations. Even Al-Qaeda has some white guys on its side, right? So how about we let Liam Neeson murder a more diverse cast of gangsters. Why are bad guy groups always so segregated?
Anyway, Taken 3’s strongest aspect is the entertaining cat-and-mouse chase between Brian and the LAPD (led by a scene-chewing Forest Whitaker), not the mobster-killing stuff. I’d also like to give a shout-out to two distinct scenes in which Brian is literally inside of an explosion and manages to survive without a scratch — it explains how he’s managed to stay alive so well throughout these movies. If Taken 3 succeeds at anything, it’s these violent tonal shifts that left me going from taking it seriously to laughing out loud and back to serious again.
Overall, Taken 3 is entertaining enough, different from its predecessors in a few interesting ways, and not nearly as dumb as Taken 2. That said, I think we can all agree we’d be better off without either sequel. That’s not a ringing endorsement of the film at all, but if you’ve already seen John Wick, there are worse things you can do with your time.