Skip to main content

No, Bryan's not dangerous. The world he lives in is.

Taken 3
(2014)

(SPOILERS) The Taken series’ rep generally seems to be that the first one was good and then Olivier Megaton took over and did for them with his visually dyslexic direction. This is certainly partly true. Megaton’s film grammar is the most incoherent this side of Marc Forster (one wonders why producer Luc Besson, a master of visual storytelling, has repeatedly shown such confidence in him). But the first movie really only has good direction on its side. And Liam Neeson killing bad guys in unrepentant and unreconstituted manner, of course, which can only go so far. As such, Taken 3 is something of a step forward, or at least offers a tentative balancing act. Megaton’s direction remains stupefyingly bad, but there is actually a halfway engaging plot that musters a modicum of interest.


I’m not going to get to carried away praising the picture, mind, since the action is the main draw, and it’s blunderingly inept (there’s a particularly road chase that is downright shocking in its utter lack of correlation between one shot and any other). At another point he manages to drive a car backwards down a lift shaft, for reasons best known to himself. There’s maybe one sequence in which the staging is sufficiently clear to engage (Liam taking out Russians in the drinks section of a convenience store).


Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen had ditched the evil Albanians of the first two movies and gone the reliable route – possibly compulsory, given recent evidence – of making the heavies Russians. They’re well represented by (Brit) Andrew Howard, who had a highly memorable episode in the second season of Banshee (he’s also currently in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I’ve given up on that) and (Brit) Sam Spruell.


Underlining that, even if they’re not playing to nationality, British actors are the go-to-baddies to go to, the real villain of the piece is (Brit) Dougray Scott (playing an American, since we know they’re ultimately much more villainous than Russians). While the plot doesn’t mark him out as the bad guy from the start, the recasting of Xander Berkley’s Stuart St John (now married to Famke Janssen’s Leonore, but not for long) is a fairly hefty clue that something is amiss. You don’t cast the iconic villain from Mission: Impossible 2 just to relegate him to the role of the inconspicuous grieving husband.


So this starts from a different place, thankfully. Kim (Maggie Grace, at college and the definition of a mature student) is not kidnapped (well, not until right at the end), and Bryan Mills is framed for the murder of Leonore during the first 10 minutes. It’s a leaf out of The Bourne Supermacy’s book and, as beloved Kimmy is still in the picture, Bryan can continue to dote unwholesomely. Being a superspy, he can dodge the authorities with ease, of course and he even gets a little help from his friends (as before, Leland Orser is the standout).


Making matters all the more digestible is dogged detective Forest Whitaker on Bryan’s trail. Whitaker’s flourishing all the usual Forest Whitaker ticks and quirks, but that’s fine by me. If there’s any movie where that’s welcome, it’s a redundant Taken sequel. And it’s even fine that the beats of his character wanting Bryan to come in while simultaneously admiring his dedication to his craft are entirely rote; again, tolerance levels for that kind of thing come down to the actor (Don Harvey also appears as one of Forest’s men, Snickers from Hudson Hawk, if you’d wondered where he’d got to).


Neeson is as somnambulant as ever, rolling over and surrendering to the absurdity of his character without so much as a glimmer of knowingness (“Inappropriate, huh?” asks Bryan after bringing Kim a giant panda – not a real one – and champagne). So much so that, when a cop advises Bryan “This is going to end badly for you” and Bryan responds “Don’t be such a pessimist” you wonder if Besson and Kamen got their scripts mixed up (they tend to have about a dozen on the go at any one time by the looks of things).


Along the way, Bryan indulges some obligatory waterboarding (because we need to be reminded the practice is totally justifiable as long as you’re a good guy really) and delivers a ream of exposition of how Dougray done it while simultaneously beating the shit out of him. By this point, the picture has outstayed its welcome by a good 20 minutes (Taken 2 at least had the good manners to be short).


I somehow don’t think anyone’s going to be campaigning for the return of Bryan Mills in a few years the way they have for Jason Bourne, although Taken 3 has made more than enough to justify another outing. Neeson would be best advised to leave his taciturn hard man roles for a while, as two a year was at least one too many for anyone to cope with. Megaton shouldn’t be let anywhere near a franchise he can harm (so why not give him Megatron to play with) and Besson’s about to embark on a big sci-fi epic. Hopefully it will be as fun as he can be (The Fifth Element) rather than as pompously deficient as he’s also capable of (Lucy).


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

That’s what it’s all about. Interrupting someone’s life.

Following (1998) (SPOILERS) The Nolanverse begins here. And for someone now delivering the highest-powered movie juggernauts globally – that are not superhero or James Cameron movies – and ones intrinsically linked with the “art” of predictive programming, it’s interesting to note familiar themes of identity and limited perception of reality in this low-key, low-budget and low-running time (we won’t see much of the latter again) debut. And, naturally, non-linear storytelling. Oh, and that cool, impersonal – some might say clinical – approach to character, subject and story is also present and correct.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c