There is a moment roughly three-quarters of the way through Taken 3 where Bryan Mills, the ex-CIA operative played by Liam Neeson, tells one of the film’s reptilian villains that he’s having a hard time figuring out the scheme that has forced him into action for a third time. It’s entirely possible screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen dropped it in there as a meta-joke for the audience. But even if it was, it doesn’t take away from the fact that tracking the plot of Taken 3 is more difficult than believing that the Mills family has luck this bad.
The beauty of the first Taken was its simplicity—girl gets kidnapped, commando dad springs into action and murders half of Paris. Even the inferior Taken 2 kept things tidy, re-casting Neeson as the captured. This time around, Neeson’s Mills is the prey, having been framed for the murder of his wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). He’s being hunted by an ineffectual detective named Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) and trying to solve Lenore’s murder while also protecting oft-imperiled daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from afar.
It’d be totally reasonable if Taken 3 was simply about Neeson staying a half-step ahead of Whitaker, but instead there are a series of convoluted double-crosses involving Kim’s shady stepdad Stuart (Dougray Scott) and Russian gangster Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell). Add in Kim’s just-discovered pregnancy and you’ve got one swerve too many.
But it’s a testament to Neeson’s startling charisma as an action star that for all its storytelling flaws, large swaths of Taken 3 remain wildly entertaining. Though he’s obviously been excellent as Oskar Schindler and Rob Roy, these late-period Bronson-esque roles are the ones that really drive home what a skilled actor Neeson is. The dialogue in Taken 3 is pretty goofy sometimes, but he sells it without looking as if he’s trying to hard, and his underlying devotion to his family is always lurking behind his eyes even as he’s waterboarding dudes.
The rest of the credit belongs to Megaton, who masterfully constructs explosive set pieces. In addition to a pair of high-impact car chases, there’s also a clever fistfight in a liquor store and a siege on Malankov’s high-security apartment, all of which manage to balance blindingly kinetic action with a clear sense of geometry and choreography—you never lose track of where Neeson or his enemies are and what is at stake at all times. It lends Taken 3 a weight that doesn’t exist on the page and helps it recover from its clunky first act. It’s the weakest of the trilogy, but Taken 3 kicks just hard enough to survive another day. B-