Unfortunately TAKEN 3 is an uninspired new sausage from the Besson/Kamen factory. Liam Neeson’s ruthless ex-CIA family man character Bryan Mills returns for his first adventure not related to the endless circle of violence caused by his daughter getting kidnapped on a trip to Europe. This time it’s the go-to action movie bad guys of today, the Russian mafia (see also THE EQUALIZER, JOHN WICK, SAFE, DRIVEN TO KILL) who (SPOILER THAT’S IN THE TRAILER) kill poor Lenore (Famke Janssen), Mills’s ex-wife and mother of Kim (Maggie Grace) and who he sort of still has a thing for. The cops show up and it kinda looks like he did it so he beats them up and goes on the run so that he can prove that he didn’t do what it now really really looks like he did.
Even more than part 1 and part 2, part 3 leans heavily on the non-action movie family stuff. There’s a whole lot of time spent showing that he has a good relationship now with his daughter and ex-wife and gets along with his daughter’s boyfriend and tries to help Lenore with her problems with her second husband Stuart (Dougray Scott). I guess at this point I sort of have to admire that Besson cares so much about these characters, or thinks we do, but it’s not like this is real deep observations about relationships. And besides, UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY will always be the definitive action sequel where an old asskicker gives a giant teddy bear to a female relative and it’s awkward because she’s way too old for it.
Here’s something unique about this movie. It has a part where Mills is fighting to the death with an ex-Spetnatz (“they’re like our Navy SEALs”) gangster, he’s got his hand around his throat and he yells, unironically, “You killed my ex-wife!” I like that about it. It would be better if he hadn’t had dreams of getting back together with his ex, but still. It’s nice that the separated parents learned to get along so well that he avenges her death.
Having already been through this in the other two I didn’t need to be disappointed that the action scenes here are total shaky bullshit, but it’s too bad. I thought director Olivier Megaton, who prematurely killed the TRANSPORTER series by not receiving proper camera training before directing part 3, had at least gotten a little better. COLOMBIANA was pretty fun. But I guess there must be some memo going around Hollywood that Liam Neeson fans never want to be sure if they saw him throat punch somebody or not. That’s the secret to his popularity, they believe.
Although the other two are far from great movies, they each have a sense of “are you kidding me?” absurdity to make them fun. The first one has its ridiculous paranoid and overprotective portrait of fatherhood, not to mention introducing the Liam Neeson Talking Badass On a Phone trope and the entire modern age of old man action movies. The second one cleverly flips the premise of the first one (now he’s been kidnapped and has to use the phone to talk his daughter through saving him), it’s a pretty good illustration of how revenge begats revenge begats revenge, and it has that hilarious notion of making his daughter throw a grenade off a rooftop across town in order to hear the explosion and estimate the distance. Part 3, sadly, is mostly more normal.
Let me attempt to explain the stupidest part of the movie, and therefore arguably the best:
In the beginning, Mills surprise-visits Kim three days before her birthday to prove that he’s not as predictable as she always says. Her boyfriend teases, saying that she’s one to talk, she has such a routine that every day she goes to the same store at the same time before class and buys a peach yogurt drink and she always takes the fourth row third from the back (or something like that) so it will be the right temperature. Mills understands and says he would do the same thing, the family is kinda OCD.
And then when Mills is on the run she does go to get that peach drink and finds a note on it saying to drink it right there, which she does. Then during class she gets nauseated and goes to the restroom and he’s in the stall. He explains that he put something in her drink to make her nauseated so she’d go to the bathroom, and he gives her an antidote.
All that to get her to meet him in the bathroom! Forget about why he needed her to drink it without paying, or how he knew it would really make her nauseated, or that she would go to the restroom instead of home, or which restroom she would go to. Why didn’t he just write “meet me in the restroom” on the drink? I don’t want to invalidate all his hard work, but I feel like the poisoning was unnecessary.
Unfortunately that’s the most particular skill he uses in this one. I mean, there’s some badass stuff. Somehow escaping a catastrophic car crash, for example. And it’s kind of funny that we’re supposed to believe that he’s doing a bunch of parkour when he escapes the police at the beginning. There was even one fight scene where it held one of the shots for nearly half a second and I could almost make out the younger guy wearing the leather jacket and wig. And I do have to give it credit for having Mills call on his barbecue buddies like Leland Orser to help out. I’ve been hoping for that since part 1 so I gotta appreciate it when they follow through.
There are bits here and there of decent action movie technique, at least in the writing stages. I like the dumb little flashbacks that keep coming up to explain how Mills did some cool thing earlier. I like how Stuart gives a ridiculously detailed explanation of the layout of the gangster’s building that’s used as narration in the leadup to Mills having to infiltrate it. And there’s a bit of a Just How Badass Is He. Or at least he’s referred to as being like a ghost. And it’s cool that Stuart mentions the events of parts 1-2 in hushed tones to the police. It’s true, it is pretty relevant information that this guy killed an entire sex trafficking ring and their families. This probly should’ve been the first thing to bring up in the murder investigation, actually.
Side note: I swear the opening night audience was more than half women, mostly not accompanied by men. I thought that was interesting. Almost as interesting as the size of the bathroom stall they meet in. I’m gonna guess this is not a reflection of all women’s restrooms, but the particular college she goes to. It’s probly on the list of best bathroom schools. Also, because they’re so detail oriented both father and daughter know the best bathroom stall on campus and that’s why they both end up there.
Forest Whitaker (BLOODSPORT) plays the cop in charge of the manhunt, but he doesn’t do a Tommy Lee Jones imitation. He’s more your typical Whitaker soft-spoken odd genius type. He has two bits of actor business that he does in most of his scenes: wraps a rubber band around his fingers and wrist, and fumbles with a wooden knight piece from a chess set. I suppose those could’ve been in the script but I figure Whitaker probly showed up and said “Here’s how I see the character. He’s a guy that plays with a rubber band. But also he plays with a chess piece.” Or maybe only the chess piece was in the script, and he said “Okay, I’ll do it, but on one condition: I also gotta play with a rubber band.”
But you know, there’s a part in the trailer where Whitaker is on the phone with Mills telling him what law enforcement is gonna do to try to get him, and he says “good luck.” And of course it’s a play on the famous scene/trailer from part 1 where he tells the kidnappers he’s going to find them and kill them. The actual TAKEN 3 is edited differently though, it doesn’t make that reference and come to think of it Mills doesn’t even instruct people on the phone that much. What, is he trying to stretch out or something? Doesn’t he know talking tough on the phone is his Van Damme doing the splits?
If I understand the ending correctly, Whitaker’s character quickly figured out that he didn’t do it and how to prove it. So his beating up cops and going on the run was as bad of an idea as common sense would tell you it was. He ran around and killed a bunch of people and endangered his daughter again for no reason, he only made everything worse. If Besson means this as kind of a satirical idea (which is possible) he doesn’t make it obvious.
The ads are calling this the final chapter. If that’s true it’s really leaving us hanging. Is he really gonna wait for Stuart to get out of prison and then track him down and kill him? Did those Albanians who he knew would come try to kill him after part 2 ever show up? What happened to that pop star from part 1? Does Kim still keep in touch with her? Is her music still popular? So many questions!
But that’s okay, we all know we don’t need a T4KEN. But thank you Luc Besson for opening this new chapter in Neeson’s career which hopefully he’ll find something better to do with.
p.s. For the record I went and saw SELMA first today, then TAKEN 3. So I’m a good American. I just figured you guys would want to see a TAKEN 3 review first.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.