In the 2000’s the action genre was in a bit of an odd landscape. In the 80’s and 90’s the world had the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and a handful of others in peak condition and age making kick-ass flicks, yet as the 2000’s dawned a new type of blockbuster hit. The comic book movie. In the 80’s studios would dish out money for sequel after sequel of anything that involved a bulked up foreigner firing a machine gun. In the 2000’s we had 3 X-Men movies, 4 Spider-Man movies, 2 Hulk and Fantastic Four movies and a slew of others that dominated the box office and has continued to do so into the 2010’s. Sure, there were a handful of action franchises like Crank, The Transporter, Craig’s Bond movies, a Bourne trilogy, and a few Terminator movies, but even standalone flicks, there aren’t that many memorable action movies from this past decade in comparison to memorable comic book ones. It’s like the genre had lost its relevance almost entirely.
Enter Liam Neeson. A 56 year old man whose last memorable role was the voice of a Jesus-like lion in The Chronicles of Narnia. Sure, he was in Schindler’s List, Kinsey, Batman Begins, and served as the only legitimate actor in Star Wars: Episode I, but as far as the 2008 atmosphere of cinema was concerned, Neeson was not really jumping out on anyone’s radar. And then Taken came out.
Taken pits Neeson as retired CIA agent Bryan Mills, a divorcee trying hard to spend time with his teenage daughter Kim. The only thing getting in the way of that is his ex-wife’s husband Stuart, a very wealthy individual who provides Kim a lifestyle Mills cant even fathom. But fear not! Mills is a brilliant CIA protector living in a ranch house researching karaoke machines that will hopefully make his daughter forget the wealth of Stuart. Maybe he should have just stuck with CIA instead of competing with that kind of bank…
After his heavily researched birthday karaoke machine is upstaged when Stuart buys Kim a horse, Mills goes home and acts depressed for a few days before he gets a call from Kim asking if he’ll have ice cream with her. Jumping for joy, Mills goes to the local ice cream parlor only to find that Kim needs his permission to travel to France to see museums, er to see U2, er to party. Mills, after a series of “Come on Dad!”-like statements, breaks down with all sorts of ridiculous requests and sends Kim and her friend off to Europe. What a reasonable, concerned father. Then, once in Europe, Kim is kidnapped abruptly by a group of strange men. Thankfully, she is on the phone with her father as the captors drag her from under the bed and take her away. We get one of the most memorable bits of dialogue the movie has to offer.
So, in true CIA fashion, Mills gets on the phone, finds out that Kim is probably being sold as a prostitute and only has approximately 4 days before she’s either sold or dead. The rest of the movie is a blur of absolute ridiculousness. Mills gets to Paris and proceeds to cause a ruckus on his way to finding Kim. The action only dies down briefly for Mills as he attempts to get information from his friend and fellow former operative turned desk jockey Jean-Claude. When Jean-Claude tries some funny business Mills promptly shoots his wife in the leg before shouting the Monty Python one-liner “It’s a flesh wound!” From there on out havoc is wreaked and shots are fired in very, very exciting fashion.
The cast of this movie is more or less inconsequential aside from Neeson, who shines in this role. He conveys the need to get things done quickly and effectively perfectly. And for a guy that’s not a buff macho man, Neeson really brings it in the fights. There are only a small handful of other characters that matter to the plot aside from Mills and Kim. Stuart and ex-wife Lenore, played by Xander Berkeley and Famke Janssen respectively are perfect as the stuck up rich couple being thwarted by the humble Mills. Aside from that no one else really matters identity-wise. There are a string of evil people that lie between Kim and her father, goons, brothel owners, investors, basically every job that is incorporated in the prostitution business gets caught in the crossfire. I think this entire lack of caring for the middle-men makes the audience identify with Mills a whole lot more than they would if we saw a bit more of the bad guys. The movie is manic and we feel the rush of Mills’ need to find his daughter and maybe we don’t catch names and roles of certain people, but when Kim might die, we just gotta move with Mills.
Action-wise Taken is great. It’s a lot of ‘real world’ style action. While Neeson does go through dozens of guys, he does so believably. Sure, there are times when I was like “Really?” but more often than not it gets overshadowed by a resounding “Damn!” after Neeson does something amazing. There’s not too much diversity in the action itself, though this movie is much more about finding Kim than it is about glorified violence. The action is in the journey, not necessarily in the fights. The pace created by Neeson’s need to finish the job before his daughter is killed makes every scene feel important. It’s not like some of these movies where guys kind of toss ideas around in empty bunkers, Neeson NEEDS every minute that passes to help him find his daughter. He can’t step back, he can only step forward, otherwise his daughter might die.
“So yeah…we’re going to blow things up eventually but in the meantime this is a knife that I bought.”
At the end of the day, Taken is a modern action classic. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it did reinvigorate a genre that truly needed something different. I’m truly upset at the critical panning of Taken 2, but you know what guys (I say guys because I can only assume there are no females reading this)? I may end up seeing it, just as a showing of faith I have towards this film, this classic. I mean, I couldn’t even think of quirky photos and fake quotes to use so you know this flick has done something to me!
Ahhhh…you know what’s next folks? It’s a Mission. And it’s Impossible. And it stars Tom Cruise. Oh yeah.
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Liam Neeson
(Taken photos and video are copyright EuropaCorp, The Expendables photo and video are copyright Lionsgate.)