Taken 3

Good thing it will too.

The thing about the Taken franchise is that it fulfills a very specific niche in the action movie pantheon – the revenge quest. The first Taken  movie was very good at setting up Liam Neeson as the frighteningly badass ex-CIA operative who will stop at nothing to bring a bunch of despicable men (who are, of course, Albanian – ooh, French xenophobia!) to task in a furious dance of beautifully choreographed violence.

Unfortunately, these types of movies tend to wear out their welcome very quickly – which is ironic because it’s those types of films that tend to become serialized in the first place. For movies in the Taken franchise, the additional concern is that it is a very troubling film to enjoy, because the act of watching the movie is a buy-in into some of its more disturbing moral positions – that an American CIA operative can just barge into another country and wreck the place up in a bid to rescue the princess from  a bunch of very bad colored men. Essentially, the Republican fantasy version of how the Iraq war should have turned out – the counter-terrorists win. While the sequels do, in their own feeble way, question the possibility that violence begets violence, by having the remnants of the mob seek out Bryan Mills in revenge – but Mills still kicks ass and puts paid to that bunch for good, essentially mass murdering the lot of them.

But here’s the rub – we enjoy these movies, and for good reason. They’re wish fulfillment fantasies that prey on our innate desire for redress at having wrongs done to us. Except that in a lot of cases, redress through righteous violence seems like the most primally satisfying option. Watching movies like Taken is an outlet for those animalistic impulses, allowing us to vicariously experience the iron hammer of justice played out on a fictitious stage.

Taken 3 isn’t that kind of movie. It doesn’t have that kind of transgressive thrill of justice served that characterized the first two films. Although it is a film about finding the killer of Bryan Mill’s wife, it doesn’t have the tension that characterized the first two films, because in both films Mills acted to save his daughter and ex-wife. In this movie, Mills’ wife is killed in the start of the movie, and the rest of the movie is merely a cold quest for revenge. One could say that Taken 3 ups the stakes by actually pushing Mills to the limit, but in doing so, the film removes even that veneer of moral defensibility, only to shoehorn it back when it’s revealed who exactly the big baddie is – Lenora’s new husband after leaving Mills, who supposedly orchestrated this giant plot as a glorified insurance scam to pay off bad debts. So Mills was really taking revenge for being dumped, Lenora was wrong to have left him and paid the price for it, everyone realizes that now, happily ever after. If only these weird foreigner types would stop trying to break apart our perfect family.

Bereft even of a moralistic point to all the violence, the film becomes a sequence of insipid action scenes in which much collateral damage is visited upon the innocents of Los Angeles – especially an egregious scene where Mills, on the run from cops, causes a tangle on a freeway that sends a half dozen cars flipping over in slow motion. I’m sure Mills must have killed at least a few bystanders, directly or indirectly, in his quixotic quest for answers. What then, of the moral calculus?

Ultimately, Taken 3 doesn’t quite have the appeal of the first two in the franchise. It doesn’t have that guilty pleasure of being predicated on righteous violence. Ironically because the filmmakers decided that they would have to up the ante and raise the stakes, they removed this sense of moral clarity from the franchise and failed to replace it with anything substantial. And so the film becomes another insipid action title for the long monotonous plane rides, to be watched and forgotten.

I give this film: 2 out of 5 yoghurt drinks

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