In 2008, Liam Neeson took on the role of Bryan Mills, as well as the terrorists that kidnapped his daughter, in the movie Taken. It was a hard-nosed action thriller that put the then 55 year old veteran actor in the middle of the fight sequences, gun play and car chases. It worked, becoming hugely popular and launching a legitimate action career for Neeson which saw him carry-on kicking arse in The Grey, Unknown and the Taken sequels.
Hollywood isn’t necessarily know for their originality though and with one ageing actor taking an action movie role, the floodgates were opened for anyone else to take on the mantle usually held by those much younger, fitter and capable. It meant that many actors who may have been considered past their “physical best” went back to the gym and trained with weapons and martial arts to try and capture some of Taken’s market and success.
This is of course meant we have had some pretty generic action movies from stars desperate to rekindle their career like Neeson did. Some have been fairly successful, like Keanu Reeves still showing he can kick-ass in John Wick, a movie which has a sequel in development. Others were the wrong vehicle for the star or just misjudged, like Sean Penn in the critically panned The Gunman or upcoming Kevin Costner vehicle Criminal which looks less than inspiring.
The success of Taken also meant that ageing action stars took inspiration and went for another ride in the explosive saddle. 2010 saw Sylvester Stallone bring action’s 80s and 90s elite out of retirement and when he stopped being a politician, Arnie came back to action with mixed success.
If we are analysing ensemble casts, the most bizarre has to be the geriatric action heroes in RED. Morgan Freeman may not necessarily wield a gun, while Bruce Willis has proven with the ever diminishing Die Hard franchise that he can still cut-it, but nobody was expecting Helen Mirren to get behind a large machine gun and “blow people away.”
This has also led to some impressive “stunt casting” in the action role too. The most recent star to find his action feet in what is arguably the coming twilight of his career is Colin Firth in Kingsman. Who knew he could be as kick-ass as Stallone or Arnie, and dispatch enemies with just a cool umbrella and great suit.
Taken as a franchise started to lose it’s way and is now well and truly buried but it’s impact still lives on. Stars who would have been labelled as “past-it” for their action credentials are getting a second chance to do some explosive damage. This year sees Matt Damon return to Bourne and Hugh Jackman will be Wolverine for the last time. Although neither are as old as Liam Neeson was when he made his now famous phone call, you have to imagine their time as genuine action heroes is almost up, or maybe that’s the point – the older, the better, the more bad-ass!
Overall, Taken has had more impact on Hollywood and recent movie output than many may have realised. Liam Neeson is still considered a legitimate action hero which means other actors who are reaching a more senior age in their career can still kick-ass as well. It does mean we get a mixed-bag but if I can see Helen Mirren with a machine gun, it has to be a good thing!