Starring Liam Neeson, Taken was a big enough hit to spawn a whole trilogy, but the sequels didn’t always live up to the excitement of the original. Neeson unexpectedly changed the course of his career when he took on the role of Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA agent with “a very particular set of skills,” in Taken. After Taken was a surprise box office success, Neeson was launched into a career renaissance as an action hero and the movie was promptly followed by sequels. Taken 2 took the action to Istanbul, where a different member of Mills’ family was taken. Taken 3 saw Mills framed for a crime he didn’t commit.
While it wasn’t expected to become as popular as it did, it’s easy to see why Taken captivated so many viewers across the globe. With its high kill count, Taken is a throwback to the kind of intense old-school thriller that Charles Bronson used to star in. Its simplistic narrative of a father racing against time to save his kidnapped daughter tapped into a primal instinct that audiences can relate to. But the sequels that followed weren’t as simplistic or relatable, and as a result, they lost some of the magic that made the first Taken movie so great.
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In Taken 3, Mills is framed for the murder of his ex-wife, Lenore, and sets out to clear his name by targeting the real killers. The film’s abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score of 13% indicates that it was almost universally panned by critics, and its mediocre 6.0 IMDb rating shows that audiences weren’t much kinder to it. This wrongfully accused fugitive storyline did successfully shake up the formula after two kidnapping movies, but the bad sequel Taken 3 is still the weakest entry in the trilogy. Its attempt to bring the franchise full circle with a retroactively unified story arc falls flat.
Taken 3 is let down by clunky action sequences and an incoherent plot. It had the potential to be another gritty, no-nonsense thriller like the first film, but its murder conspiracy is overcomplicated and needlessly ropes in plot points from the previous movies. Taken 3 turns Lenore’s new husband Stuart from the useless egotist he was in the first movie into the big bad of the entire series. The editing is choppy to an absurd degree; Mills is shown climbing over a fence in a flurry of a dozen cuts. The first movie was also choppy, but never at the expense of clarity.
After Taken became a surprise blockbuster, Taken 2 played it safe. Taken 2 is a pointless, derivative sequel without any of its predecessor’s grit. Taken pushed the boundaries of its PG-13 rating with brutal violence and nail-biting tension, but Taken 2 fits comfortably within those boundaries. By attempting to appeal to the broadest possible audience, Taken 2 loses what made Taken special. With 22% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.2 on IMDb, Taken 2 fared slightly better with critics and audiences than Taken 3, but it was a far cry from the acclaim met by the first one.
In Taken 2, Lenore is abducted in another European city, Istanbul. There’s a slight change to the premise this time around as Mills himself is also kidnapped, but he frees himself within a few minutes and it quickly becomes more of the same. Neeson still brings his A-game, but the plot is full of cartoonish turns like tossing grenades to triangulate a location. Part of the appeal of the original Taken film was its intense realism; Taken 2 threw that realism out of the window.
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With a 59% score on Rotten Tomatoes, Taken wasn’t exactly universally praised by critics, but it was met with much more positive reviews than its sequels. Audiences received it more favorably, with a 7.8 rating on IMDb. The first Taken movie sees Mills’ daughter getting abducted by sex traffickers while vacationing in Paris. It wastes no time getting into the action as Mills warns her captors that they’re making a big mistake and jets off to the French capital to save her. Taken is a taut, tense, fast-moving thriller playing on the universal emotion of a parent’s drive to protect their child.
Neeson’s fierce turn in Taken singlehandedly kickstarted the “geriaction” subgenre and paved the way for movies like RED and The Expendables. Whereas a less dedicated actor would phone in their performance in a movie like Taken, Neeson brings real gravitas to scenes like his ominous “I will find you... and I will kill you” phone speech and his hard-earned reunion with Kim. Taken has all the components of a classic thriller: brisk pacing, visceral action scenes, and a protagonist who’s easy to root for with a goal that’s easy to identify with.
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