Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, and now you’re just sequel-baiting. Yes, the Taken franchise returns once again with Olivier Megaton’s Taken 3. At this point you should know the drill: some gravel-voiced Eastern Europeans do some nasty things to Bryan Mills’ (Liam Neeson) family and he is forced to go full Charles Bronson on them until all of the bad guys are dead and all of his loved ones are saved. The first movie saw his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) kidnapped by an Albanian sex slave ring in France. The second movie saw the relatives of the massacred Albanians take revenge by kidnapping his wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) in Istanbul. This time around, Megaton cuts right to the chase by straight-up killing Lenore and having Bryan framed for her death. You’d think by now Bryan would have bothered to teach his loved ones some basic self-defense techniques seeing as how almost all of Albania has sworn a blood vendetta on his family. But logic has never played a great part in the Taken sequels.
If there is any saving grace in Taken 3, it is the screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen which seems to take pains to give the film its own identity. This is in large contrast to Taken 2, a joyless, perfunctory affair which felt like a cheap carbon-copy of the first film both in terms of plot and tone. In Taken 3 the perpetrator of Bryan’s misery isn’t revealed until the last third, thereby sidestepping the revenge narrative in favor of a cat-and-mouse thriller: Bryan must go on the run from the authorities, protect his daughter, find who is responsible for his wife’s death, and then kill them. Much like in Taken 2, the most interesting scenes involve his relationship with his daughter. In the streets of Istanbul he actually teamed up with Kim, first to triangulate the location of his prison via the sound of grenade explosions and then in a high-speed car chase with her at the wheel and Bryan riding (pun maybe intended) shotgun. But Taken 3 presents a fascinating dilemma: the regular authorities are breathing down Kim’s neck. So Bryan must utilize a curious array of tricks and spy techniques to first communicate with her and then protect her. One bit involving a message hidden on a yogurt bottle is especially compelling.
In truth, Taken 3 feels more like a proper sequel to Taken than Taken 2. This is most apparent in the film’s utilization of in-universe logic: when Bryan goes off the grid he is immediately aided by a number of old friends from his “government operative” days; his daughter immediately understands that her father was set up and readies herself for whatever instructions he may pass to her; and the local law enforcement officers develop a grudging respect for him. My favorite character in the film is Inspector Franck Dotzler. Played by Forest Whitaker, Inspector Dotzler is intelligent enough to realize almost instantly that Bryan was framed and that the best way to help find his wife’s killer is to stay out of his way. That doesn’t mean that he won’t stop hunting him, though. But it is refreshing to see a police inspector in one of these movies who isn’t completely duped from the get-go.
But if the greatest strength of Taken 3 is its story and screenplay, its greatest weakness is Megaton’s incompetent direction. Seemingly determined to live up to his namesake, the action scenes are so frantic and confusing that I suspect many people will leave the theater wondering why there weren’t any action scenes at all. During them, there is hardly a shot that lasts longer than a single second. One wonders if Megaton’s greatest regret concerning the film’s production was that it was physically impossible to include an edit that was shorter than a single frame. Additionally, each shot shakes and gyrates like we’re watching a subpar cam-rip of a movie rather than an actual print produced by professional filmmakers. I’m stunned to say this, but Megaton somehow makes Michael Bay seem like Béla Tarr.