The latest, and ostensibly final, installment in the Taken series has landed on our doorstep with a heavy thud. Directed by the aptly named Olivier Megaton and co-written and produced by Luc Besson, the film is, like its predecessors, a numbing exercise in overkill. Once more, ex-special ops agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) goes into superhero mode, this time to find out who murdered his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and pinned the blame on him. And once more, ubiquitous aerial shots, swirling cameras, and pounding music strain to make even something as innocuous as an establishing shot of Los Angeles’s jammed freeways feel as significant as the dispiritingly frequent chase scenes, gunfights, and beatings. Broken up into quick cuts and often filmed from confusing angles, the action seems aimed less at cluing us in on what’s happening than simply amping up our adrenaline—and masking the impossibility of some of Mills’s literally superhuman feats and escapes.
As Anthony Lane wrote about Taken, Mills’s targets are nearly always “undesirable aliens.” The villains—Albanians and Arabs in the first film, Turks in the second, and Russians in the third—could be taken from the TSA’s watch list. Watching Mills mow his way through their ranks is empowerment porn for those who long for the Cold War’s clarity of purpose and American dominance in this murky age of terror. Taken 2 at least had the decency to acknowledge the havoc Mills unleashes on other families in his vengeance-taking rampages: Its chief villain was a father bent on avenging the death of one of the sex traffickers Mills had killed while rescuing Kim (Maggie Grace) in the prior film. Here, Mills’s apocalyptic tendencies are occasionally winked at, but never challenged. Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), the smart, quite cop following just half a step behind Mills as both try to solve the case, keeps pointing out that Mills and his daughter, who Mills enlists to help in his search for her mother’s killer, are flagrantly obstructing his investigation and committing murder and all kinds of other illegal acts in the process. He could arrest them for that, he reminds them, before chuckling indulgently and assuring them that, of course, he won’t. Because, hey, they’re the good guys. Right?