At what point did Liam Neeson become a bad-ass?

With Taken, the former dramatic heavyweight, Liam Neeson, transformed into an unlikely yet convincing action star. Ti charts the rise of the new, bad-ass Neeson…

Liam Neeson

Please note: there’s a spoiler for Batman Begins in this feature.

If you had told me five years ago that Liam Neeson, he of Schindler’s List, would have become one of Hollywood’s leading action men, I would have laughed in your face. Sure, he had been a Jedi Knight and punched Christian Bale a few times in Batman Begins (and let’s not forget Darkman all that time ago), but the man is primarily a serious drama actor known for biopics such as Rob Roy, Michael Collins, Kinsey and waiting forever to become Spielberg’s Lincoln (though Daniel Day-Lewis has now reportedly been cast in the role).

If he’s not biopic-ing, he’s mentoring. In fact, I’d have said that Liam Neeson was Hollywood’s Mentor of Choice rather than Man of Action. After all, in films like Gangs Of New York, Kingdom Of Heaven, The Chronicles Of Narnia and Batman Begins, he crops up, speaks some words of wisdom, and usually dies.

What’s more, he more often than not dies early in films, so that other characters may learn from Neeson’s inspiring life lessons. He does the dying, not the killing.

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However, here I sit, watching Liam Neeson as The A-Team‘s Hannibal Smith zipline onto the back of a lorry, before punching a mercenary off the top onto a nearby parked car.

For those that thought Taken was a one-off, that doesn’t appear to be the case, as the trailer for his latest film, Unknown, shows Neeson once again running around a European city kicking ass and taking names in a bid to discover his true identity.

So, where did it all go so right, action-wise, for Liam Neeson?

Neeson hasn’t only recently done action. In fact, one of his first roles was as Gwain in Excalibur and he did plenty of sword-wielding in that. Over the years, he has leaned towards more serious roles, being the titular hero Rob Roy, Valjean in Les Miserables and, of course, Oskar Schindler. However, his first real dalliance with being a leading man in an action film was arguably Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace.

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Now, The Phantom Menance is not a good film and Liam Neeson has noted many times said how much he disliked filming it. However, as a Star Wars fan, he reportedly signed up without reading the script. Whoops.

Still, his role as stoic and quite dull Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn did show that he was capable of laying the smack down, if required. Granted, his three-way duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul was a little too polished and choreographed, but it showed that Neeson could cut an imposing figure in fight scenes.

Then there was Batman Begins, where he was not only on mentoring duties, but in a surprise twist, the film’s villain, Ra’s al Ghul. Neeson showed he could not only wield a sword or a lightsaber, but dish out a few kicks and punches strong enough to floor the likes of Christian Bale.

However, Taken changed everything.

You knew you had to go see it from the trailer. Not only did it show Liam Neeson smacking people in the face, but delivering a line that would be oft repeated: “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

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Schinder’s List, Taken was not. It sealed Liam Neeson’s reputation as an action star when it made over $220 million worldwide. It is no surprise that Taken II has been greenlit.

Neeson cut such an impressive figure in the action scenes that, when he was cast as Hannibal Smith in the A-Team film, there was no backlash at all. Everyone must have collectively smacked their foreheads and realised how perfect the casting was, especially compared to obvious choices such as Bruce Willis and George Clooney.

And the action roles for Neeson have kept coming. It was reportedly best pal, Ralph Fiennes, that got him to sign on to Clash Of The Titans as Zeus, a role he will reprise in the ridiculously titled Wrath Of The Titans. He seems to be cropping up in everything from The Next Three Days to a cameo in The Hangover II.

Action-wise, as well as Unknown and Taken II, Neeson is reportedly to appear in alien invasion war flick, Battleship, and Joe Carnahan’s next film, The Grey, which will see Neeson facing up against hostile wolf packs. He has also been cast as the lead in Ji-woon Kim’s (The Good, The Bad And The Weird) next film, The Last Stand, where he will star as a sheriff facing down a drug cartel leader trying to get across the Mexican border.

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It seems the serious biopic Neeson of the past has temporarily gone, replaced by a man who has found joy in beating the shit out of bad guys and getting in car chases. I would not be surprised if he cropped up in the Expendables II: Come Get Some.

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