Taken was a massive hit when it first hit theaters, and cemented Liam Neeson as a modern action star. The sequels just couldn’t live up to it.
Liam Neeson’s career changed forever with the release of 2008’s Taken. The actor expected the movie to go straight to DVD when he was shooting it and thought that the most he would get out of it was a trip to Paris, but it ended up pioneering the “geriaction” subgenre of action cinema, turning Neeson from a respected dramatic thespian into a beloved gun-toting ass-kicker.
As with any movie that makes more money than its producers were expecting, Taken was followed by sequels. And as usual, those sequels didn’t live up to the greatness of the original. There are a few reasons why.
Simplicity Was The Key To The Original’s Success
Simplicity Was The Key To The Original’s The key to Taken’s success was its simplicity. We’re introduced to Bryan Mills as an ex-CIA agent estranged from his family. His daughter goes missing in Paris, he flies over there to find her, he beats up a bunch of European sex traffickers, and then he brings her back to America. It doesn’t try to complicate things; it just tells the riveting story of a parent’s quest to save his kid.
As the sequels tried to build on the franchise’s lore, killing off Bryan’s ex and revealing Kim’s stepfather to be a criminal (which somehow slipped past Bryan’s background check), that simplicity went out the window.
The Original’s Gritty Realism Was Replaced By Far-Fetched Insanity
One of the most awesome things about the original Taken movie is its gritty realism. Not everything in the movie is totally believable, but it is far more plausible than the average action thriller.
In the sequels, this realism was thrown to the wind as the action became increasingly far-fetched. In Taken 2, Bryan tells his daughter to chuck grenades all over Istanbul so he can gauge where he is.
The Sequels De-Brutalized The Violence
The first Taken movie somehow managed to earn a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. It was probably right on the edge of an R rating, because the violence is really brutal, harking back to the old Charles Bronson revenge thrillers. There’s even a torture scene. The sequels maintained the PG-13 rating, but played it a lot safer. Taken 2 and 3 are nowhere near the boundaries of the R rating.
The producers didn’t care how brutal the first one was, because they didn’t expect it to make any money. But once it became a hit and the potential for a blockbuster franchise was there, they sanitized the violence and removed the grindhouse factor that was so appealing in the original.
Bryan Mills Became Invincible
Bryan Mills has always been characterized as the strongest, deadliest, quickest-witted CIA agent who ever lived, but he took his own share of beatings in the first movie. He got knocked out and tied up by the bad guys at one point.
In the sequels, Mills was practically invincible. It didn’t matter how many times he got shot, or how many car crashes he was in, or how many explosions he was near – he always pulled through without a scratch.
Audiences Didn’t Care About The Sequels’ Stories
There’s something primal in the first Taken movie that gets moviegoers on the edge of their seats, following Bryan Mills’ quest to save his daughter, because every parent’s worst nightmare is a universally relatable fear and a trained professional fighting back is a satisfying revenge fantasy.
But there’s nothing in the sequels’ storylines to make audiences care what happens. In the second one, Bryan’s the one in danger, which fans know he can easily handle. And as a half-baked riff on The Fugitive, Taken 3 is even worse.
The Sequels Used Liam Neeson’s Star Power As A Crutch
Since Taken wasn’t conceived as a starring vehicle for Liam Neeson, its script was written without the knowledge that the final product would be boosted by Neeson’s star power. Ironically, the movie ended up giving Neeson even more star power as he became a legendary action hero.
It’s hardly surprising that the sequels used this star power as a crutch, relying almost entirely on Neeson’s charms, but it is disappointing, because star power isn’t enough to sustain two whole movies.
CGI Ruined The Sequels’ Action
Most of the stunts and effects in the first Taken movie were done practically. There was a grungy, visceral quality that made the action feel like that of the Bourne franchise.
In the sequels, the set pieces were filled with bland CGI that took all the weight and intensity out of the action. As always, the digital stunts look horrible.
Pierre Morel Is A Better Director Than Olivier Megaton
When he first came up with the idea for Taken, producer Luc Besson brought it to District 13’s Pierre Morel to direct. Morel wasn’t drawn to the story’s action; he was drawn to the father-daughter aspect, and it shows.
Morel didn’t return for the sequels. Rather, the second and third Taken movies were directed by Transporter 3’s Olivier Megaton, who’s nowhere near as good of a director. Morel is hardly the second coming of Akira Kurosawa, but his filmmaking has a sense of restraint that’s sorely missing from Megaton’s.
The Sequels Placed Too Much Focus On The Dramatic Scenes
The dramatic scenes in the Taken trilogy are all banal and disingenuous. But it worked in the first movie, because there was only enough drama to establish Bryan’s strained relationship with his family. The rest of the film was dedicated to the action.
As the series went on, the sequels dedicated more and more time to this melodrama. Each dramatic scene was more painful to watch than the last.
Liam Neeson Didn’t Care
Liam Neeson kind of phoned in the first Taken movie, because he expected it to go direct to DVD, but he at least gave a serviceable performance as Bryan Mills. Ever since the first movie came out, he’s been casting doubt on each subsequent sequel.
But as long as the movies kept making money, the producers kept dragging Neeson back into the role of Mills. In each Taken movie, he seems to care less and less – and it’s hard to blame him, given the material he’s working with.
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