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The Taken movies, explained for people who've never seen them

A still from Taken 3
A still from Taken 3
Taken 3
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

The third installment of the Taken franchise, Taken 3, hits theaters this weekend. To many, this story of a man with a particular set of skills is undeniable. Unexpectedly, the franchise has become one of the sturdier, more successful ones out there.

But to a great number of the population, the lasting fidelity to this franchise is a mystery. Here, then, is a brief guide to this cultural phenomenon.

What is Taken?

Taken is a very successful movie franchise starring Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, and Maggie Grace. The first movie, which came out in France in 2008 (and was released in 2009 in the US), grossed over $145 million domestically. Taken 2, released in 2012, grossed around $139 million.

The franchise revolves around Bryan Mills (Neeson) and his family members, who are ta...


Yes. They're taken.

Why are Liam Neeson's family members taken?

Bryan Mills's ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) and daughter Kim (Grace) are taken for different reasons. In the first film, Kim (along with her friend Amanda) is taken because an Albanian human trafficking ring wants to sell her into slavery. According to the franchise's mythos, virgin Americans fetch a high price on the black market, and it just so happens that Kim is one.

In the second film, Lenore and Bryan are taken by relatives of the Albanians Bryan killed in the first movie. For the obvious reasons.

What obvious reasons?

Revenge. They are taken for revenge.

Do people think Liam Neeson and Bryan Mills are the same person?

Not really. But the Taken franchise has definitely become iconic and re-defined the actor's career. Formerly thought of primarily as an actor who mostly starred in art films, he's now seen as a graying badass.

His portrayal of Mills bleeds into his real life, at least a little bit. Since the release of the first Taken, it's hard to think of a movie where Neeson doesn't play Mills or someone that resembles Mills. This is not unlike the perception that follows around actors like Michael Cera and Sarah Jessica Parker, who are often seen as the characters they play in movies and television.

Why do people love Taken?

Critics have panned the Taken films.

"It's fun for about 15 minutes seeing Neeson do James Bond as Daddy Dangerous. But the surprise wears off quickly," Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote about the first film.

"A sloppy, lazy, unintentionally laughable sequel," Richard Roeper said about the second.

And Taken 3, is currently hovering around a 12 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

But even though the movies have never achieved critical acclaim, they've found a niche. And it's a testament to freedom that they've done so well.

According to a survey of Vox staffers who enjoy the franchise, the enjoyment is in the action scenes and watching Liam Neeson absolutely crush everyone in his path. Some like his voice, and some point to the thought that filmmakers, producers, and Neeson himself are in on the joke. There's no pretentiousness here, and Taken isn't trying to be anything other than a silly, over-the-top action movie. And there are plenty of times when that's exactly what you want to see.

Why are Liam Neeson's family members taken over and over? Is Liam Neeson a bad parent?

(Taken 3)

Liam Neeson sounds like a pretty good dad. In an interview last March with GQ, he opened up about raising his teenage sons and being a single dad. (His wife, Natasha Richardson died in 2009.)

My boys are teenagers. They're experimenting. They're flexing muscles and sometimes dangerous avenues, and you think, 'F***. If Tasha was here, someone could share this.' ... But yeah, we're doing all right, you know?

However, you're probably talking about Bryan Mills, the character Neeson plays. And Bryan is only an okay dad. In the first movie, he's attempting to better his relationship with his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife and her new husband. Sure, he's not a stellar dad and may not always be there for his daughter, but her being abducted and sold into white slavery isn't directly his fault.

And the second movie is about Albanian gangster retribution. That's not exactly his fault either (though it kind of is, since they want revenge on him for the first film; try not to think about it).

What's sort of funny is that Neeson himself saw the meta-silliness of Taken sequel after Taken sequel.

"I don’t think there’ll be a Taken 3. She can’t get taken again," Neeson told 98fm, a Dublin radio station in 2013. "That’s just bad parenting."

Yet here we are, with another Taken ready to hit theaters.

What is left to take from Liam Neeson? Does he have a dog?

A Taken movie revolving around a dog would no doubt be dark. But according to Neeson, no one is taken in Taken 3.

"They called me up, and I said 'I’ll do it … but only as long as nobody gets Taken.'" he told UK host Jonathan Ross in 2014.

Wait. If no one is taken in Taken 3, isn't that title a little misleading?

(Taken 3)

Yeah, but would anyone see a movie called "Not-Taken" or "Not really Taken"?

Taken is an incredibly successful franchise, and it would be kind of silly for a third installment to be called something else. In this case, using the name Taken just implies that you'll get to see Liam Neeson in his signature role, taking out bad guys and being super cool.

How does Bryan save his family members from being taken?

Well, Bryan has a very particular set of skills that he has acquired over a very long career. He's a master assassin, possesses the agility of an Olympic-level athlete, is a marksman, and has a MacGyver-esque ability to adapt to the most dire of situations.

But in addition to his more sophisticated tactics, Bryan offers practical tips to use in case you are ever, yourself, taken. For instance, consider shouting out descriptions of abductors to anyone who will listen, or remembering things like directions and how long your ride in the trunk of a car was/is.

How different is the advice Liam Neeson gives in Taken from actual, official advice given by, say, governments and international organizations?

As mentioned, Bryan often doles out advice about what to do when being Taken in the films — including noticing the birds singing. These actually aren't that different from official government advice.

According to the a safety protocol guide on the USDA's website, it's recommended that you remain passive (just like Kim in the first movie) with your abductors. The guide also explains that you should, like Mills does in the second film, try to visualize where you are being taken:

While being confined and transported, do not struggle. Calm yourself mentally and concentrate on surviving. Attempt to visualize the route being taken, make a mental note of turns, street noise, smells, etc. Try to keep track of the amount of time spent between points. You will be asked questions about this after your release in an effort to determine where you were held.

The guide also explains that listening to birds isn't just helpful to pinpoint whether you're in a forest or a beach, but also to pinpoint time:

Plan on a lengthy stay and devise a way to keep track of the passage of time. If isolated, you can approximate time by noting changes in temperature between night and day, the frequency and intensity of outside noises (traffic, birds), and by observing the alertness of guards.

A lot of this advice is echoed in the UN's guide to surviving after being kidnapped. What's fascinating is that the UN guide reiterates a saying that "more hostages are killed during rescue attempts than by execution by hostage-takers."

The UN guide also goes into PTSD and trauma, but the films don't really get into this. After being taken in the first movie, Kim goes and sees a pop star. The second film ends with everyone sharing milkshakes and introducing themselves to Kim's new boyfriend

Will Liam Neeson save me if I'm taken?

Are you in a Taken movie?


Then no.