Monday Morning Critic – Finishing the Game: Taken 3, Profitability and The Conclusion of Franchises


The first real weekend of 2015 brings with us the action franchise that has managed to find an audience and rebrand an aging leading man in one feel swoop: Taken. Starting out as an action film that launched the “old leading man kicking ass” genre that has swept the genre up, mainly allowing aging action stars from the ’80s to feel more in place than opposite their superhero numbers, Taken has rebranded Neeson. I wrote about this last year, actually, but Neeson has become an action star in an era where you usually do it by wearing tights.

Now Neeson, who shows no sign of slowing down with the genre, is about to have his first real test as an action star: finishing the game.

Finishing an action movie franchise is something that rarely happens because it’s giving up on what usually is a fairly lucrative franchise. It’s why we’ll never see Iron Man 4: The Reckoning where the film ends with Robert Downey Jr. dead, because Marvel would rather recast RDJ with a younger actor than pull the plug on their biggest franchise. They’ll wind up doing that with every member of the Avengers cast, too, when the genre starts to taper down and they simply don’t want to pay the big bucks that a high profile actor like Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans will want to continue reprising a role.

For as much as Taken 3 is being positioned as the final film in the franchise, setting up the premise by killing off an integral character and making the film come full circle with a simple “good luck.” And therein lies something interesting that very few action film franchises are willing to do: finish the game.

Rambo 3 was supposed to be the final film in that franchise, one that brought Rambo “full circle” by helping the Mujahideen in the ’80s defeat the evil Soviet Empire that had invaded Afghanistan. I can see why Stallone wanted to revisit it, especially after 9/11 permanently changed how we view CIA involvement in that protracted Soviet engagement in Afghanistan, because perhaps he didn’t want John Rambo’s final on screen moments coming in aid of the people who would later commit the most heinous terrorist act in American history on US soil. Last Blood puts Rambo on American soil for the first time, apparently taking on a Mexican cartel in what’s been called his No Country For Old Men, as Stallone is now resuming his habit in the 80s to continue his fleeting career.

Every time he’s in a slump and needs a hit he’ll go back to Rocky or Rambo, thus Last Blood and the Apollo Creed Jr. film with Michael B Jordan. Thus what could’ve been final films in a franchise wound up getting extended because of financial concerns, mainly from Stallone as he staved off his eventual descent into direct to video fare. If it wasn’t for Rambo and The Expendables giving him a nostalgia kick that wound up getting Escape Plan and Bullet to the Head into theatres when they could’ve gone direct to DVD just as easily.

Neither did enough domestically to justify their budgets, either, which is why Taken 3 being made as a finale (and not another sequel) is interesting. This isn’t Neeson going back to the well because he abjectly failed with a bunch of other projects ala Stallone. It has a couple of factors to it going in that traditionally don’t exist when an action “finale” is being posited. Usually a “finale” comes either after the fact, as it didn’t make enough money for another sequel (which is my guess what happens to the fourth Expendables) or is just a marketing gimmick that’s used until a new way to continue the franchise is developed.

Or, like in the case of Terminator: Genisys, someone else bought the rights to the film and wants to make money off them.

Editor’s Note: Our list naming guy is on vacation.

The Five Reasons Why Taken 3 Is An Interesting Film

1. Liam Neeson doesn’t need to do this film.

Liam Neeson is established as a leading man, and was well before he became a de facto action star in 2009, so his desire to make this film (with the presumption going in that it was a finale) must’ve been interesting enough to make him come back. He’s in a comfortable career spot where he doesn’t have to make this film if he didn’t want to. He’s not stuck, like Stallone, where if he wants to still have significant roles in films that aren’t in a Wal-Mart discount bin two weeks after release he has to revisit an old role. He could’ve said “forget that” after Taken 2 and he’s in the same spot as he is in now. Thus there has to be something that’s interesting about the film besides Neeson’s paycheck expansion for him to take it.

2. They’re telling you someone important is dying straight up

It’s very rare that a character integral to two films is killed and they straight up tell you early on. It was a key factor in the latter two Bourne films with Matt Damon but it was never used as part of the trailer. They could’ve eliminated that reveal and used it for the film, as everything about the trailer screams that you don’t need to reveal it. Revealing that Famke Janssen gets killed, and what’ll have to be early to drive the film’s arc, means that Neeson could potentially die in the film. Revealing her death early means something; if this was just another sequel then everyone comes back.

3. The trilogy has grown organically, not purely out of profit

The one curious thing about the Taken franchise has been that the sequels are building from the original film. The second film was vengeance for the violence inflicted on the first. The third one imagines will be the sins of the past coming back to haunt, as well. The key is that everything is happening organically. It’d be easy to just repeat the formula from the first, where Liam Neeson tears up a foreign country to rescue someone, but building upon the first has made it that more interesting.

4. That January magic is being revisited

Taken and Paul Blart: Mall Cop bucked a trend in 2009 by being substantial hits for two actors not known as box office draws in Neeson and Kevin James. Both actors have sequels to those films out in 2015, oddly enough, but only Neeson’s is getting a release in the same month as the original. This January looks fairly loaded, at least in comparison to the past couple, but if you’re going to go for another stab at a big box office return in a 2015 that’s loaded from April to August then January is your best bet.

5. This is the only place the film could’ve gone without becoming a sad parody

Let’s be fair; the only way Taken can exist in the “Liam Neeson tears up a foreign country” genre is if his daughter keeps getting kidnapped whenever she leaves America to follow a crappy band. As much as it’s funny to think of Neeson tearing up Toronto because his daughter got kidnapped following Nickelback in Canada, or tearing up Seoul in South Korea because she really had a thing for Psy, it could only work seriously one more time. And we’d grow tired of him saving random people, or relatives, by a third film.

Thus a final film where the sins of the past have caught up, and now the hunter has become the hunted, at least is a logical ending place as opposed to repeating what worked the first or second time. Thus Taken 3, if it is the final film in the franchise, at least is going out in the right direction. We’re seeing it evolve as a franchise, even if the results were mixed in the second outing.

Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq

I remember this was one of the biggest stories of the late ’90s and kickstarted the celebrity sex tape. Business Insider has a great piece on the guy who ultimately wound up leaking the Pam Anderson & Tommy Lee sex tape.

Variety discusses why box office revenues and ticket sales are not what they once were. I’d argue that a continued recession, a lackluster schedule and Hollywood pinning its fortunes on a 2015 slate with another Avengers film, Star Wars being rebooted, a Terminator film with Arnold in a starring role, another James Bond film and another Fast & Furious film to go with sequels to some sleeper hits of the past couple years will give Hollywood a baller year for 2015.

Mike Noyes unveiled his Top 10 of 2014. Spoiler alert: he has a beard. Here’s mine, in case you missed it.

Brendan Campbell discusses The Equalizer.

And now on MMC … we laugh at the minor leagues of team Crossfit. Yeah … it’s a thing.

The Amateur Washed Up Loser Olympics by InfiniteElgintensity

If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This week’s DVD – Bad Words

I can’t fathom why I missed this in theaters. Jason Bateman, making his directorial debut, has a wild premise. Guy (Bateman) is a 40 year old junior high dropout and juvenile deliquent who decides to enroll in a spelling bee for his own reasons. Followed by a reporter (Kathryn Hahn) looking for her big break, Guy winds up at the national spelling bee with an agenda of his own.

It’s an insanely dark comedy, one I purchased alongside Veronica Mars, and it’s well worth it. It’s in the same category as I placed Mars, that right underneath the Top 10 level of quality, but it works because Jason Bateman the director and Jason Bateman the director knows how to walk that fine line between awful human being and unlikeable. Guy is a miserable person but he’s not some curmudgeonly misanthrope so irredeemable that the film’s finale falls flat.

It’s just a dark comedy with a grown man insulting children, which is probably why it didn’t find an audience in theatres. It’s quite worth it on DVD.


What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

Taken 3 – They killed his wife … now it’s more personal than before?

See it – So far the film looks decent and it’s Liam Neeson.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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