Former special agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has a special set of skills. Taken 3 director Olivier Megaton does not. Taken 3 is the rare action film that had me dreading the action scenes. No one comes to a Taken film for a thoughtful drama filled with rich, interesting characters, although that would be terrific if those elements were present. But by the third entry, the Taken series isn’t ready to shake anything up at a fundamental level beyond no one gets kidnapped, although that still happens albeit in a far more minor capacity and with a different verb. The reason Taken was a hit and the reason Taken 2 and 3 exist is because people want to see Neeson lay down a PG-13 beating. Megaton had one job, and he botched it in spectacular fashion by making some of the worst, most incoherent set pieces imaginable for a major motion picture.
The opening of the story drowns us in normalcy as a chipper Mills buys a giant plush panda as a birthday gift for his college-age daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Also, since Mills is such a great guy, he reluctantly rebuffs the advances of his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), who is unhappy with her marriage to wealthy businessman, Stuart (Dougray Scott). When he gets a text message from Lenore saying that she wants to talk at his apartment, he comes home to discover she’s lying dead in his bed. Before he can even take a moment to grieve, the cops burst in and try to arrest him. Mills—employing aforementioned special skills—escapes and then goes on the hunt to find his wife’s killer while the wise Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) tries to bring Mills in for questioning.
The new story doesn’t boost the low IQ of the franchise, and while there’s nothing as excitingly stupid as the scene from Taken 2 where Kim is chucking grenades around Istanbul to help her dad triangulate his position, Taken 3‘s entire setup is idiotic as it constructs a completely unnecessary roadblock to facilitate a pointless (and obvious) twist. The only reason this roadblock exists is so that Mills can run from cops—cops he understandably won’t kill, and who also pose no serious threat to him. Even Dotzler is resigned to the fact that he and his men are outmatched (although the film lets us know Dotzler is smart because he carries around—I kid you not—a chess piece). The movie drags out so that Megaton can include more awful set pieces.
If you were to teach a class on everything wrong with modern, non-VFX driven action, Taken 3 would be your primary example. It feels like someone told Megaton that if he held a shot in an action scene for more than one second, he would die. The cinematography of these scenes are already garbage as the camera never gets a good angle up close, so just imagine a series of half-second, half-visible blurs where all you really know is that you are watching a foot chase, a car chase, a fist fight, or a gun fight.
If Megaton only took this approach to the foot chases, fist fights, and gun fights, you might be able to make the argument that he’s trying to cover up the stunt work since the 62-year-old Neeson has excellent screen presence (he remains the only good thing in these movies), but his physicality may not be enough to move at the required speed. But Megaton takes the same approach to the car chases, and it’s still impossible to figure out the geography of the scene, although the director is more than happy to show you one collision from 26 different angles with each angle lasting for no more than one second.
Liam Neeson is a great actor, but he can’t carry what doesn’t exist, and he’s saddled with an action movie with horribly executed action scenes. There’s no way to make these movies legitimately compelling since they all have crummy stories, infantilize women, huge plot holes, and stock villains. The series’ purpose is to deliver non-stop action with a terrific actor playing against type (although Neeson’s type—period actor—has long since vanished from his filmography), and Taken 3 only delivers nausea and annoyance. Neeson has a very special set of skills, and hopefully he’s wasted them on the Taken franchise for the last time.