Taken, starring Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills: it never glamourizes its main characters.
Bryan’s daughter is kidnapped by an international ring of human traffickers who sell their victims to an economic elite that spans the globe. In a lot of action films, we see this glitzy side of it all, and we see this bad guy who comes across as stylish or interesting or maybe sort of cool (like Darth Vader or Dracula); in Taken, the bad guys are seedy and shifty and a little slimy – you feel sort of icky to watch them. They’re bad. They’re just bad.
In a typical action film, the main characters are expected to engage in derring-do – which is wonderful, very exciting to watch – but it is at times a bit contrived or exaggerated. Does this bother me? Not at all – the purpose of movies is to allow us to see/hear/experience the things we would never actually be able to do, and if a real person would be very unlikely to survive the events in The Ghost Protocol, why, that’s what makes it exciting, isn’t it? But it’s refreshing to see a main character who engages in derring-do the way real people would – hurting himself, falling down, getting winded, getting cut. It makes the audience feel just a little closer to that character’s experience, brings us a little bit more into the story ourselves.
When Bryan faces the big-bad guy in the end, the oft-used device of the incompetent opponent is completely missing – Bryan’s enemy is an excellent hand-to-hand fighter and gives Bryan a genuine run for his money. Bryan earns his victory – not because he’s a better fighter but because he wants it more, and because (or so I infer) his cause is a just and noble one. And he pays for his victory with some pretty nasty-looking physical damage.
Bryan Mills does have a “particular set of skills” that make him very good at tracking down his daughter and punishing the bad guys, but those skills aren’t that he’s bigger or stronger or faster – he’s just a regular guy, doing awesome stuff the way a regular guy would be able to do … and that’s pretty cool.