Box Office Democracy: Taken 3
It’s not that hard to make a sequel to a popular movie. You take the basic formula from the original movie and do all of the same things with slight changes. To make Taken 2 they took just about everything from the original movie and changed it just a little. It wasn’t France it was Turkey, it wasn’t the daughter who was kidnapped it was the mother, it wasn’t about human trafficking it was about revenge. It’s very hard to make a third movie because the audience will make fun of you if you do the exact same things again, the same things they praised you for the first two times they will bury you with the third. Taken 3 tried very hard to find new ground to cover and while they made a very different movie, it’s not a good movie.
Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, screenwriters for every entry in the Taken franchise, made the curious decision to make this movie a mystery. The first two films in the series had no ambiguity at all, we knew from the jump who the bad guys are and take pleasure at watching Bryan Mills silver fox badass himself through wave after wave of bad guys getting his satisfaction. For Taken 3, Mills spends the vast majority of the film having no idea who the bad guys are and spends the first two-thirds of the movie taking out all his aggression on police officers that are simply doing their jobs. It’s not a particularly clever mystery either as there just aren’t any characters in the film that aren’t connected to the plot somehow. All characters with more than five lines are directly involved in the climax of the film. It would be a triumph of straightforward screenwriting if that weren’t the complete opposite of the point. Forest Whitaker joins the cast as a detective that seems to be trying to do every cool detective thing he’s ever seen in a movie, assuming there even are movies in the Taken universe and given how much traffic their version of Los Angeles has maybe they don’t. He contemplates the specifics of crimes while looking at a knight chess piece and while Whitaker is a great actor there’s only so much he can do here.
There’s a careful balancing act a film has to do to sell us on a 62 year-old man as an action star. For the first two films they got the slightly younger Neeson to appear believable by having him be so overwhelmingly competent as a badass. For this movie Neeson struggles through his first encounter with redshirt henchmen so badly that it made me worried about him. It broke the spell of the ageless powerhouse tearing through the ranks of the criminal underground. This was probably intended to make the character look a little more vulnerable, and we could talk forever about if that’s what people want when they go see a movie like this, but what it did for me was break the spell of suspension of disbelief. I was suddenly overwhelmingly aware that I was watching a movie and instead of caring about the plot I got deep into minutia like trying to figure out if they were trying to sell me rural Georgia as Glendale, California.
One thing Taken 3 did do that I loved was it finally solved its Roadrunner problem. In the original run of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons (and not the decidedly worse cartoons made later under a licensing deal) there were rules that governed the behavior of the characters and for the first two entries in the Taken series the female characters acted a lot like the Roadrunner: they could only act when told they could by Bryan Mills and if they ran out of instructions they stood in place and panicked. They move away from this a little bit; Maggie Grace finally gets to bring a little bit of agency to Kim Mills. It’s still a little insulting that her father leaves her a note urging her to drink a poisoned yogurt shake instead of a note saying to excuse herself to go to the bathroom during class but I’m willing to overlook that to see her finally do something other than willingly being a hostage and waiting to be saved. I hope that they don’t feel the need to make another one of these movies, I’m pretty sure no one was dying to make this one, but if they do I would love to see Kim be part of her father’s weird group of retired spies instead of getting a fourth installment on the supremacy of aged white men. Above all else though I’d really rather this series be over as it is quickly entering the latter day Die Hard unwatchability zone.