Even though they belong in different genres, the Taken and Hangover franchises actually have a lot in common. Their first films were perfectly fine genre flicks: nothing revolutionary but fun and entertaining enough to stand on their own. Of course, since they made a lot of money, sequels were inevitable, regardless of whether or not their stories needed to be expanded. One of the charms of the first Hangover was in the way it fully embraced a premise so outlandish, the fact that it was even executed into a major feature film was part of the joke.
Taken, on the other hand, offered the kind of stripped-down action where any attempt at memorable characterization was superfluous. It didn't need a followup; any similar movie with pretty much any Grizzled Action Badass Man kicking mucho ass to save a loved one could have counted as an unofficial sequel. Both franchises panicked when the obligatory sequels were greenlit, resulting in lazy and less enthusiastic remakes of the first films. The idea behind The Hangover was already stupid enough, and they decided to double down on a sequel that made Home Alone 2: Lost in New York look plausible. Taken 2 had basically taken (pun intended) the original film and moved it to Istanbul in a desperate attempt to give the franchise at least a more exotic background.
By the time it came to cramming another sequel down the poor audience's throats in order to round out a "trilogy" no one involved with the first film ever planned on completing, the team behind The Hangover realized that they can't remake such a silly premise for the third friggin' time, so they awkwardly plopped the characters in the middle of a generic action/comedy instead. Meanwhile, Luc Besson -- whose production company Europacorp is a factory that pushes out a bunch of mid-budget action flicks starring middle-aged actors every year -- probably realized that he can't get away with a kidnapping angle for the third time. He instead settled on a lifeless and dull Fugitive knock-off for Taken 3 and called it a day.
The Taken movies have even less of a reason to exist than The Hangover franchise. At least in The Hangover, Todd Phillips could rely on the colorful characters that were established in the first film. On the other hand, the first Taken's characters were the least interesting aspect of the film. Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills was basically a badass action hero placeholder. The plot was streamlined enough to stay away from any characterization that strayed from Mills' intense mission to rescue his daughter, and that worked in the first film. Trying to have us care about such an underwritten character and the personal life of his whiny daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is the first and biggest problem with the sequels. These are not memorable or original characters; they're bland archetypes. They didn't really matter in the first film: the focused action and Liam Neeson's uber-charismatic posturing did.
Name recognition is the only reason why we get Taken sequels. Just look at the story. Mills being framed for the murder of his wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), hunting down the real culprits, trying to evade the police forces
headed by a generic Samuel Gerard clone named Franck (perrenial cop Forest Whitaker): this could have been produced as
Everyone, especially Neeson, looks fatigued and wholly disinterested this time around. It's hard to blame Neeson: there are only so many times a sexagenarian can karate chop a horde of bad guys' necks and deliver shamelessly bland and melodramatic lines before he gets really tired of the whole ordeal. That being said, I don't blame Taken 3 for existing. It was meant to be nothing more than a quick cash grab. With an obligation to write a third movie around such unmemorable characters, it was either going to become a Die Hard or a Fugitive knock-off. I guess screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen flipped a coin, and here we are.
What I do blame it for is clocking in right at two hours. If you're going to waste the audience's time with such bland action fare, why not do it in a brisk ninety minutes instead? Did we really need that subplot involving Kim's unwanted pregnancy or all that time wasted on the possibility of Mills and Lenore bumping uglies again? Director Olivier Megaton, whose name sounds exactly like an action movie director who's begging for some creative trolling, could have cut to the meat of the story the way Taken helmer Pierre Morel did and focused on a sleek chase/revenge movie. Instead, what we get is a bloated bore with an uneven pace, a wholly predictable antagonist, and a lead who looks like he'd rather be at a Darkman convention. As is invariably the case with any Europacorp film, the stunts are handled with as little CGI as possible, and the hard-hitting, bone-crunching fight choreography is impressive. Still, they're so few and far between that none of it is worth wasting two hours on Taken 3.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Taken 3 captures the ugly, yellow look of L.A. That would have been fine for a drama, but looks flat and unappealing for action. Either way, the 1080p presentation stays true to the source and offers a clean and crisp transfer.
You'd expect a lossless soundtrack from a contemporary action film to rock your home theater, but I found the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track to be a bit muted. Sure, it got the job done throughout the car chases and shootouts, but there was nothing in the audio that really wowed me. Perhaps I'm too spoiled after listening to John Wick's awesome sound design.
Overlong and cynical from the first frame to the last, Taken 3 is a pointless waste of time even for an action sequel. The first Taken was no masterpiece, but it looks like Die Hard compared to this hopefully final episode.