Director: Pierre Morel
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Oliver Rabourdin, Famke Janssen, Katie Cassidy, Leland Orser, Xander Berkeley, Holly Valance
Plot: Bryan Mills (Neeson) is an ex-special forces agent, who hears his daughter (Grace) getting kidnapped over the phone, launching him on a deadly vendetta to get her back.
When Taken first came out, you either loved it or hated it. It was either the action movie of the decade, cutting away needless side characters and having a lead character with a very simple motivation: getting his daughter back. It was a story we could all relate to and with the simple set-up, more time could be dedicated to giving us some gripping action set-pieces. On the other hand, some people, like myself, hated it. The story was non-existent, conjuring up some nameless bad guys, giving Liam Neeson a one-note hero to play and just letting the story wander from fight to fight, without any real purpose or direction. Now we have a few year’s distance from the original movie, we can review it without the hype of a premiere. As a result, Taken is neither terrible nor amazing, settling for a respectable decent action, which is probably all it aimed to be in the first place.
Yes, all my original gripes are still there. My main problem is that Taken lacks a main antagonist. Whenever a mildly interesting villain is introduced to the plot, like the spotter at the airport or the pimp at the construction site, they are quickly killed off, rather than being built up. It makes for some decent pay-offs, but they are short-lived and fail to give Taken any form of lasting effect. Perhaps Morel wanted to make the sex trafficking feel more real and less Hollywood. After all, this is a very real fear, so Morel could have been trying to make it feel more of a general evil organisation rather than having some man in a suit, hatching some mastermind scheme. However, seeing as the rest of the movie is trying to be a blockbuster event, the gritty realism never really breaks through, instead settling on some minor escapism. I don’t overly mind the lack of tackling the misery of the sex trafficking business, because you would end up with a complete different movie by the end of it. Also, there is something gratifying about taking this nasty side of crime that remains largely unbeatable and having Liam Neeson kick the living shit out of it. However, it remains to be said that the only villain to really have an effect on the audience is the Sheikh’s henchman at the end and even that fight is moderately short-lived.
However, now I am not determined to pick holes in the movie, I learned to lean back and just let the fun of the movie sink in. The action is very well made, fortifying Liam Neeson as a dependable action star. Some of his fight moves are impressive and quick, making small things like the disarming of a bad guy, feel less routine and more ‘OMG – did you just see that?!’ The car chase on the construction site is also better than I remembered, with a particularly gruesome, yet cleverly censored, death at the end of it. I love the way Morel films Liam Neeson as an unstoppable force, perhaps inspired by some of the rebooted James Bond chase scenes. When Neeson has a bad guy in his sights, they rarely get away. Sure, Neeson’s character gives the heavyweight actor little to do, but he doesn’t quite coast as clearly as I remember. He always gets across that determined, conflicted hero look, which makes him a little easier to get behind for a movie than Steven Seagal would. Sure, it is a shame that a major actor has fallen into the routine action genre, but I much rather watch an action starring him than a Dolph Lundgren one. There was also one shocking moment I didn’t remember where Neeson shoots an innocent woman in the arm. He will do anything to save his daughter and seeing as that is one of the main things Morel wants to get across, Taken does exactly what it says on the tin.
Therefore Taken is a movie that ends up turning into a case of weighing of pros and cons. The bad side: the supporting characters are null and void. There are no major bad guys and the appearance of an ex-wife and other agents are pretty much forgotten by the second half of the movie. The good side: there is more time to focus on Liam Neeson doing awesome things. The bad side: a lack of story means that the ending is quickly wrapped up and awkwardly stumbles to the finishing line. The good side: there is no embarrassingly shoe-horned in sub-plot that takes away from the main plotline of the story. By the end of the calculating, the pros and cons end up equal. Taken isn’t as amazing as initially thought, but my previous review of it being dreadful is way off the mark too.
Final Verdict: Taken is an honest action, promising little more than great fight scenes. You occasionally long for more, but there is enough here to earn approval.