There are some movies that take everyone by surprise. From the likes of Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker going from the possibility of a straight-to-video release to winning Best Picture Oscars, to John Wick reviving Keanu Reeves as not only an action star but the action star.
Taken is one of those movies. I remember seeing the trailer with the instantly iconic “set of skills” scene and thinking that it looked like absolute shit – just another woman in peril, man goes killer in Paris type. There was an undeniable novelty of seeing Liam Neeson playing an outright action hero, though he wasn’t a stranger to action cinema thanks to roles in Star Wars, Batman Begins, and even a superhero lead in the underrated Darkman. What Neeson was , though, was old. Taken was a huge hit, especially on it’s relatively small budget. Because of this, there now exists two sequels that completely tarnish any charm it could have had as a franchise while also being an accidental textbook for anyone who wants to study how to get action filmmaking horrendously wrong.
All of this made me ignore the first Taken for a long time. I’ve got nothing against Neeson’s action filmmography – in fact I kind of love his collaborations with Jaume Collet-Serra, movies which embrace their inherent silliness to give the audience a great time. Taken is not one of those types of movies, but it’s safe to say, that without this movie, the good stuff wouldn’t exist. So, is Taken any good? Sort of.
Taken is basically an entire season of 24 condensed into a fleet-footed ninety minutes. Neeson is playing a Jack Bauer type who actually got to retire before some foreigners kidnapped his daughter. The movie is about the ruthlessness and creativity of Neeson’s character as he blasts his way through Paris. Considering the reputation of this franchise, I was surprised to note that the hand-to-hand combat is pretty good. Neeson did a lot of close-quarters training and it shows in not being able to tell when the stuntman is filling in. The editing isn’t that bad either – hits land, and the geography of the action is clear.
But there are hints that this would be the only Taken movie to work this hard, though, as the action sequences that took more time to shoot, mainly the car chases, are edited to within an inch of insanity. The sequels being the obvious cash-ins that they are started shooting every action scene this way. It’s quicker, and the box office numbers mean’t that they just did it again for the third one. This was the reason that many people thought that mainstream action cinema was dying – that over-edited, near incomprehensible chaos became a stand-in for modern action cinema, and it’s not hard to see why people hated it so much.
While I didn’t hate it, I’m still confused about Taken’s cultural importance. There is nothing in it that stands out as anything other than a subpar thriller. Maybe it’s the set of skills, maybe one scene is enough. After all, I still watched it – and there’s no doubt that it’s got its place as an iconic piece of action cinema history, for better or for worse.
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By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Common Sense Media)