Thursday, October 18, 2012

Taken 2

I've been turning over Taken 2 in my mind. Maybe it doesn't deserve it. It's a pretty dumb movie, but I'm not one to stop thinking about dumb things. I would argue that it's actually the self-evidently dumb things that deserve the most scrutiny, especially when they're so baldly composed for mass consumption and profit.


Does the Taken franchise say something about the state of feminism in the modern movie industry, or in the modern action movie?

The first film imagines a world in which women are objects to be squabbled over by men. Most of the woman on-screen are drugged sex slaves. Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) seems angrier that his ex-wife is happy with a new man than that she doesn't love him anymore. The only other woman I can remember, the wife of one of Mills' colleagues (a colleague who turns out to be a bad guy), has perhaps the most anti-feminist fate: she is shot by Mills for no reason besides torturing her husband with her potential death. I'll say that again. She is not shot as a means to torture her. She is shot to torture her husband. This is her only scene in the movie.

That's all pretty gross. But is Taken 2 worse?

On its surface, the answer is no. There's much more for the female cast members of Taken 2 to do. But soon enough things get bad for them.

Taken 2 revisits the woman's-pain-is-really-man's-pain conceit again, this time to torture Brian Mills. His ex-wife is hung upside down from a bundle of chains in a dirty basement and cut on the neck. We're told she'll bleed out in about 30 minutes. This is done to torture Mills by forcing him to watch her die. The ex-wife in this movie has much the same role the daughter did in the first film: kidnapped and held by nefarious men, her character is the justification for Mills to mete out righteous justice on her captors.

Throughout much of the movie Mills' daughter (Maggie Grace) actually gets to participate in the action. At various points she eludes potential Albanian kidnappers, throws grenades, and pilots a car during a chase through the crowded streets of Istanbul. But she cannot escape her father's voice. Even as she's running from kidnappers across the rooftops of the city, Brian yells directions at her through a cell phone. The car chase scene is almost comical: her father will just not stop shouting at her from the passenger seat. She is not allowed to do anything for herself--only allowed to do what her father, the most important man in her life, dictates. She is something like a marionette, pulled by invisible strings.

I can imagine a version of Taken 2 that isn't anti-feminist. In it, Brian Mills is kidnapped and his ex-wife and daughter are forced to summon resourcefulness and grit to get him back. But that is not how the movie turned out. Brian Mills is, in fact, taken. But Taken 2 thinks its more likely that he would free himself than that a woman might be capable of rescuing him on her own.

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