Movie Bites – Taken

A retired elite commando has only a few hours to find and rescue his daughter.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the plot summary for the 1985 Schwartzenegger film Commando. But it’s also the plot summary of another film, a little more recent: Pierre Morel’s 2008 Liam Neeson film, Taken.

Both have similar premises: a single father who dedicated his life to his country decides to get out of the business to spend more time with his daughter. Evil forces come into play, and his daughter is swept up in the process, leading our hero to come out of retirement and murder every last son of a bitch out there.

Sound awesome? Guess what: it is. Unlike Commando, however, our protagonist’s family life is a bit more contemporary. Bryan Mills (Neeson) doesn’t have the convenience of a dead wife to ensure his relationship with his estranged daughter. His wife Lenore (Janssen) is very much alive, divorced, and remarried with full custody of their daughter. The new guy ain’t too shabby either, being a multi-national millionaire, able to give his new step-daughter anything her heart desires. Needless to say, our hero feels a little jaded right off the bat.

Similarly, our antagonists go from old elite forces super-buddy and ambiguous Latin-American dictatorship, to Albanian sex traffickers. Certainly a queasy subject, to be sure. However, this line of work allows us the given luxury few action films can boast, nowadays: due to the severity of the crimes involved, and the depth of corruption and human degradation that this crime runs, our hero is completely morally justified to break any law, kill any man, to fulfill his purpose. It allows us the ability to lean back in our chair with our packet of gummi bears and say, “Play on, Mr. Neeson. Show me what you got.”

The other difference from Commando obviously is the choice in leading male roles. While Neeson is clearly a tall man, he is by no means in the same physical category Arnold was in, especially in 1985. Amazingly enough, if Commando were the first Arnold movie ever, I would not have been convinced of Arnold’s abilities based on his size, alone. It was his body of work, and his reputation of being an unstoppable, killing machine (and I’m not just referring to the couple of flicks about murdering robots). It’s the fact that Commando was an “Arnold Movie,” rather than a movie about a man saving his daughter. The daughter element is almost irrelevant, actually. She’s simply a device through which Arnold may justifiably invade a small Latin-American nation and kill its military.

We also got Arnold in his prime: young (38 in 1985), gigantic, and with a resume that claims ass-kickery. At age 57, Neeson is joining a very small list of action heroes reaching social security collection age. I heard rumblings that said Neeson would look weird kicking ass at his age. This is literally only a few years after Batman Begins, where the dude literally beat the hell out of Batman. Anyone concerned that he isn’t up to snuff will be set right after the movie’s climax.

The comparisons to the Bourne franchise are everywhere. It’s hard not to make that claim, when Bourne was the biggest new action hero of the last decade. Fortunately, unlike the Bourne franchise, I actually gave a rat’s ass about the character, and his mission. Furthermore, Taken is completely incapable of further sequel spawning. We get this 93 minute action flick, and that’s all.

I will not spoil a single thing, except to say that this movie delivers and surprises. With a run-time of 93 minutes, you know he only has a finite amount of time to save his daughter. Another great item I would have neglected to mention, is that this film (with the obvious exception of Neeson and Janssen) has a virtually unknown cast. This allows us to further follow Neeson through the foreign terrain of Paris and its seedy underbelly, and to never leave his side.

Five flags, because it’s awesome. I know, I know. It doesn’t look like a perfect film. For its genre, the ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners genre? It’s a ten.

~ by Crivelliman on February 5, 2009.

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