When you think of Taken, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Liam Neeson. The second thing is the threat he delivers in his gravelly, papa-bear-mode speech explaining to his daughter’s kidnapper over the phone that he has a particular set of skills and he’s not afraid to use them.
So let’s face it: The most interesting thing about Taken is Liam Neeson as an action hero. Which means the most interesting thing about NBC’s Taken, the series, is the fact that it doesn’t have Liam Neeson. Nor does it have any of the charisma or magnetism he brought to the story. That’s not completely the fault of Clive Standen (Vikings), who’s saddled with having to fill movie-star-sized shoes as the younger Bryan Mills, but it is the fault of a series that has no idea what it wants to do beyond using its recognizable, franchised name.
Is this the origin story of Bryan Mills? Nope — Bryan more or less begins with his skills intact, no training needed, and gets to work immediately after he loses his sister in what appears to be a terrorist attack. Is this the prequel to Luc Besson’s big-screen Taken? Not really, when you notice how the show barely cares to place the characters in a discernible time frame. (Taken came out in 2008 so is this the ’80s? The ’90s? Who cares, we’ll put a Macbook Air in this scene because we can!) Is it a deep character study into Bryan’s tortured past and why he becomes the lone wolf he is in the films? Nah: By the time the second episode begins, Bryan’s been recruited to a black ops team led by Jennifer Beals’ Christina Hart, who gamely puts up with all the exposition she’s required to deliver with a straight face. The development effectively erases Bryan’s entire lone wolf persona.
But who cares? Taken the film delivered enough white-knuckle action to make some big bucks in its lackluster sequels, and NBC’s series does at least capture that. The car chases and shootouts, as inexplicable as they may be, are slickly choreographed. The murky conspiracy and subsequent missions, also inexplicable, will put some on the edge of their seats. And for true fans of Taken the film, the pilot throws them a bone: A character advises Bryan never to have a daughter because daughters are, uh, easily kidnapped. Wink!
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Look, if NBC’s Taken chose to rehash Taken completely, then there’d be more of a reason for this series to exist, but as it stands, this version walks a strange line where it transparently discards everything that made Bryan Mills a worthwhile action hero while trying to convince the audience that this is the same guy. While the first four episodes touch on his guilt and PTSD over losing his sister, it’s clumsily done — the story and tone shift so quickly into focusing on ops of the week that it feels almost absurd to see Bryan caring about what happened in the first few minutes of the pilot.
Taken may have been a surprise hit in theaters, but this Taken shows none of that inventiveness or spark. In fact, it’s boring, and no amount of bloodshed or gunfire can reverse that. The only set of skills this iteration of Taken has is an ability to be aggressively mediocre. C
Taken premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.