Taken 3

Genre: Action

Director: Oliver Megaton

Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Forest Whitaker, Dougray Scott, Sam Spruell, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, Al Sapienza

Running Length: 118 minutes

Synopsis: Liam Neeson returns as ex-covert operative Bryan Mills, whose reconciliation with his ex-wife is tragically cut short when she is brutally murdered. Consumed with rage, and framed for the crime, he goes on the run to evade the relentless pursuit of the CIA, FBI and the police. For one last time, Mills must use his “particular set of skills,” to track down the real killers, exact his unique brand of justice, and protect the only thing that matters to him now – his daughter.

Review: Taken 3 is a perfect example of how Hollywood manages to run some movie franchises into the ground. When the first (and at that time, only) Taken movie was released, what was originally probably intended to be a B-list movie became an international hit, netting over US$200 million in box office, and establishing Liam Neeson’s second career as a bona-fide action star. The menacing voice message Bryan Miller leaves for his daughter’s captor is highly memorable even after seven years, and has become immortalized in pop culture. While spawning a sequel was an inevitability, this third (and seemingly final – thankfully) film in the franchise feels wholly unnecessary, and takes the franchise in a direction that betrays its origins: while the title is Taken 3, no one actually gets taken (except perhaps the audience, for a ride).

Playing out more like a knockoff of The Fugitive, this time around it’s Bryan’s ex-wife (a woefully underused Famke Janssen) who is murdered and Bryan conveniently being framed for her murder. This alone shifts the tone of the movie quite drastically versus the first two films – since no one is taken, there’s never that tension of Bryan doing the best he can to protect his family and free them from the grasp of the villains, which results in a far more subdued performance by Neeson. Neeson’s no-holds-barred takedown of the bad guys was what made the first Taken so eminently watchable, and outwitting the police in a largely blood-free manner for much of the movie makes Taken 3 feel like a geriatric, neutered outing when compared to its predecessors.

Gone too are the European locales, with the action centered in Los Angeles this time, yet the film still manages to whip out a Russian mobster villain on demand (and introduced in a terribly hackneyed flashback sequence), I guess to make the film feel just that bit more exotic. Although this is Oliver Megaton’s second Taken movie, the camerawork is just plain awful. Most of the action sequences are framed so poorly that it’s hard to discern the action, and Megaton’s questionable choice of employing shakycam movements even in non-action scenes, and a predilection for extreme closeups make viewing Taken 3 a potentially nauseating experience.

Unfortunately, in a film franchise not known for strength in plotting, Taken 3’s plot is the most convoluted and muddled of the three films, and by the final reel it seems that even the director has decided to no longer bother about the plot and just wrap it up at the earliest possible moment. I personally found the final reveals and the denouement to make no sense whatsoever, and would be appreciative of anyone who will be watching the movie to enlighten me on the finer workings of the plot (particularly “the warm bagel theory”). To add insult to injury, despite repeating ad nauseum in its marketing materials that Taken 3 is “one last time”, the film still chooses to leave a door open for a potential sequel. For the love of all that’s good and decent, dear Hollywood executives, please do not green light that project.

Rating: * (out of four stars)


Transformers: Age of Extinction

Genre: Action

Director: Michael Bay

Writer: Ehren Kruger, based on Hasbro’s Transformers action figures

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Sophia Myles, Li Bingbing, Titus Welliver, T.J. Miller

Running Length: 165 minutes

Synopsis: A mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down Autobots and Decepticons – and a paranoid government official – on them.

Review: By the end of a very trying 165 minutes, the only thoughts of extinction I had in my mind were the (futile) ones about the franchise itself. Despite a reboot with a brand new cast of humans, Age of Extinction is essentially a showcase of all the worst possible traits of a Michael Bay action blockbuster – it’s hopelessly self-indulgent, totally devoid of any depth or character development, and features explosion upon explosion upon explosion (Michael Bay is not joking when he says he loves to blow shit up) way past the point of tedium. Add to that a complete disregard of subtlety with its scores of product placements (just imagine Jack Neo given the reins of a Hollywood blockbuster) and the fact that this is the first installment for another planned trilogy, it’s difficult for me to muster up anything positive to say about the movie at all. The irony is that the film is a criticism-proof one, sure to net massive box office no matter what anyone says about it, especially since every other summer blockbuster giving the film a very wide berth.

Ehren Kruger once again returns as the scribe for Age of Extinction, but the screenplay practically writes itself, given that it’s really no different from all the Transformers movies before it. Despite this, somehow Age of Extinction is the longest-running Transformers movie yet (oh how I tremble at using the word “yet” – as if there’s a potential that the next two movies could run even longer than the current marathon length), though “only” by an extra ten minutes. Much like the previous Transformers, there’s still no reason for Age of Extinction to run this long – it’s a bloated behemoth of a movie that would really have worked far, far better if it was shaved down to about 90 minutes, but it wouldn’t be a Michael Bay movie if not for excess, would it?

Although the action is much clearer this time round, further improving upon Dark of the Moon, it is also mind-numbing to sit through a seemingly infinite number of action sequences, and because the audience is never vested in the outcome due to the paucity of plot, none of it actually feels like it matters in any way. That being said, the editing of the film still leaves a lot to be desired, and Bay’s signature style of rapid-fire editing becomes increasingly annoying the longer the film unspools.

In an attempt (I presume) to stir things up visually, and also obviously because Chinese money is being invested in the franchise, the finale moves the action to China and Hong Kong, but with the final confrontation running almost an hour long, the catatonia sets in long before the end credits had rolled. The change in location does not make any part of the movie feel fresh in any way, and the same tired movie tropes are paraded in front of the audience. The much-vaunted appearance of the Dinobots is woefully short and inconsequential, with the new robots being nothing more than a ride for the existing Autobots. I honestly can’t imagine any fanboys of the Dinobots feeling sated by their existence in the movie.

The entire human cast of the first trilogy has been jettisoned, and the replacement cast is indeed better (Mark Wahlberg is a far more agreeable presence than Shia LaBeouf), but with such a bare-bones script (and frequently laughable dialogue), there’s simply not much the cast could do to rescue the movie. The only actor to make any impression is Stanley Tucci, and that’s really only because he’s playing a broad caricature of Steve Jobs and gets all the funny lines in the script. I did, however, appreciate the fact that Li Bingbing was given a whole lot more to do than Fan Bingbing in X-Men: Days of Future Past. There’s no doubt that financially, Age of Extinction will make a ton of money, ensuring that the next movie will not be far away, but given the terrible state of affairs for this current film, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than action junkies and Transformers fans feeling enthused about another future episode of this mechanical, soulless franchise.

Rating: * (out of four stars)


Gulliver’s Travels *

Genre: Adventure / Comedy

Director: Rob Letterman

Writers: Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller, based on the book by Jonathan Swift

Cast: Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Chris O’Dowd, Catherine Tate

Running Length:  85 minutes

Synopsis: This particular iteration of Gulliver’s Travels is about the voyage of Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black), a mail clerk at a Manhattan newspaper office, who agrees to travel to the Bermuda Triangle in order to get into the good books of Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), travel editor of the paper. Once there, he encounters freak weather and winds up in the country of Lilliput, populated by “little people” only six inches tall. After being imprisoned briefly with fellow prisoner Horatio (Jason Segel), Gulliver manages to befriend the royal family – King Theodore (Billy Connolly), Queen Isabelle (Catherine Tate) and Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) – and becomes the protector of Lilliput, much to the disgruntlement of General Edward (Chris O’Dowd). 

Review: Jack Black can be an entertaining actor in the right movie, but sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Gulliver’s Travels is one such film – it’s basically Jack Black being Jack Black, and in the most annoying way possible. In fact, Black’s Gulliver is so juvenile and unlikeable that it seems almost impossible to identify with and root for the protagonist of the story – and knowing from the very beginning that it will be a happy ending actually grates even more. Irritation factor aside, the biggest negative about Gulliver’s Travel is simply that it’s not an entertaining movie to sit through. 

Needless to say, apart from the central theme, nothing has carried over from Jonathan Swift’s original story. In fact, the producers chose to modernize the story with unnecessary references to Star Wars, KISS, Times Square and Transformers (believe it or not), which doesn’t make the plot any more interesting that it is (not that it is, by most measures). The pacing is uneven, and the preamble before Gulliver beings on his journey is protracted and uninteresting. Coupled with the supposedly funny antics of the leading man – which, to me at least, are not in the least funny – and it becomes an 85-minute movie that’s quite hard to sit through. 

Surprisingly, even the visuals aren’t up to par, which is surprising for most movies employing CGI these days. The CG work incorporating Gulliver and the Lilliputians is serviceable at best, and dodgy at worst, with much it somewhere in the middle. What’s truly unnecessary – and this is becoming the norm these days – is watching this film in 3D. There’s really no creative use of the third dimension, so once again it’s a money grab that would leave you with nothing much else apart from strained eyes and a potential headache. The best thing about watching Gulliver’s Travels? The five minute short film before the feature starts, starring everybody’s favourite prehistoric squirrel, Scrat, from the Ice Age franchise. 

Rating: * (out of four stars)