In Taken, Liam Neeson fought to restore the patriarchy. In Taken 2, he fights the Clash of Civilizations.
Neeson’s Bryan Mills returns in this utterly unnecessary but moderately enjoyable sequel to 2008’s surprising action hit. Interestingly, the film begins from a perspective that action movies rarely explore — that of the normally faceless villains. Murad, the father of one of the murdered Albanian sex traffickers from the last film, stands over the graves of his son and his comrades in Tropojë, Albania. An imam gives a blessing and Murad swears bloody vengeance against the man who killed their brothers and sons.
Meanwhile, Bryan, still divorced, is sitting outside his ex-wife’s house in the uniquely degrading ritual of the modern single father, waiting to see his child. His liberated ex-wife, whom he did not pay enough attention to during his career, is separating from her new husband because he canceled a family vacation to China. Apparently, grrl power notwithstanding, even that second marriage on your life schedule can pose some problems. Bryan chivalrously but awkwardly listens to her marital woes, parting from her with a hesitant touch that communicates he’s never moved on from having his family stolen.
Their daughter Kim is with her new boyfriend Jamie, a skinny-armed and unshaven little nonentity who stands around looking nonthreatening. Mercifully, he’s not completely worthless, taking care to greet Kim’s father with respect and offering a gentlemanly handshake, only to be greeted with a scowl. After the events of the last film, Kim isn’t so foolish as to be angry at her father for being overprotective, but having your father insert a GPS into your cell phone does cross the boundary of normality.
Bryan offers to have his ex-wife and daughter join him in Istanbul after he is finished guarding an Arab VIP. They surprise him in the Turkish capital, but unfortunately, so do the Albanians.
Liam Neeson caused a minor news bump when he remarked on the glories of filming in a Muslim country during development. He described the Muslims’ call to prayer as a beautiful experience and revealed that he was even considering converting to Islam. While Neeson was undoubtedly sincere, such pronouncements may have been necessary to rebut the inevitable charges of xenophobia and racism accompanied the first installment. Make no mistake, the film is Islamophobic.
The Mills family stays in a beautiful hotel with a picturesque view of Istanbul, but the audience can’t help but notice the blood red and Islamic crescent of the Turkish flag draped triumphantly over the conquered Hagia Sophia. Simply acknowledging this as an example of my own prejudice would be fair except that all the members of the criminal gang have the same crescent on their hands, as the movie takes care to illustrate with dramatic close shots.
For much of the film, murderous criminals with the crescent tattoo chase the Westerners through the streets with innumerable Turkish flags flying in the background. The message is clear that this is what it means to be a foreigner, to have no power within a society and to be forced to regard every person and institution as hostile.
Somehow, the entire Ummah seems to unite against the Mills family. Turkey apparently shares a border with Albania now, as gangsters simply drive into the country with the approval of the border police. Murad obtains information from people within the country in an office featuring Albanian flags. Is this an embassy? A local businessman? We are never told. Government involvement is quite possible, as Tropojë is notorious for being a wild, violent region founded by the clan claimed by the current Prime Minister of Albania.
The Turkish police don’t seem to do much other than chase the Mills family and it is implied that at least some elements of the police and hotel staff are in league with the gangsters. The women wear burqas (in Turkey?) and all of the men are fat, sweaty, unattractive, and unshaven wogs in track suits who are impossible to tell apart and exist only to watch football and smoke. Liam Neeson manages to mow down dozens of these stereotypes, though without the ferocity and brutality familiar from the first film. When explaining his attack, Murad tells Bryan that he had killed “sons and brothers” as if there were just “nothings.” In this film, that’s all they are, as other than Murad, none seem to even have a personality.
Bryan and his ex-wife are eventually “taken!” and imprisoned. Murad than leaves Bryan completely alone for some reason, allowing him to easily break out of his handcuffs, save his wife’s life, and take out a room full of Muslims. He helps his daughter locate him through the improbable plan of having her throw grenades around the city as he listens for the sound. The Turks don’t seem to mind this too much, as Kim blows up a car from her hotel balcony without security (who are literally just outside her room) so much as noticing.
She and her father manage to escape both Albanian gangsters and the Turkish police in a drawn out car chase involving the required crashing through fruit carts and “beating out the train at the last minute” scene. They make it to the American embassy where they will be safe, a bastion of Western order in the midst of this Muslim chaos. Once Bryan and Kim arrive there, an entire detachment of United States Marines is somehow unable to stop them from driving onto the embassy grounds, though in light of recent events in Libya this basic incompetence actually seems realistic.
Having invaded an embassy, dropped grenades all over Istanbul, and murdered a staggering number of Albanian gangsters (and even a Turkish police officer), somehow Bryan is allowed to simply leave the embassy after making a phone call to one of his friends in government. Armed (naturally), he uses his skills to retrace his steps and locate the gangsters who still have his wife. After disposing of the other criminals, Bryan Mills finally confronts Murad. He tells him he will spare his life if Murad renounces any further claims of vengeance and tells his sons to do the same. Murad agrees. Bryan drops his gun and Murad promptly picks it up and tries to shoot Bryan in the back. As you may have guessed, Bryan removed the bullets. He kills Murad and once again saves his family.
Three weeks later, the happy family is united for milkshakes along with Kim’s boyfriend. “Don’t kill this one Dad,” she says playfully, and everyone laughs. Presumably, Bryan may even get his wife back.
Needless to say, the professionally offended are horrified about the portrayal of a father who takes responsibility for his wife and child. Taken 2 was produced by a French company even as the new Socialist government of the Republic moves to replace the term “father” with “Parent 1.” Always alert for signs of anything out of step with approved beliefs, The Daily Beast dug up a former hooker who writes books about hookers to complain about the patriarchal fantasies of men defending their daughters (presumably because they don’t want their daughters to be hookers.)
Despite leftist rage, the refreshingly reactionary sexual politics were more frank in the first installment. In Taken, Neeson’s Bryan Mills transformed from beta to alpha over the course of the first film, displacing the Semitic materialism of his ex-wife’s new lover with the Aryan warrior virtues of an old-fashioned father and husband.
In this film, the cultural clash is the main conflict. Bryan is at war with an entire way of life which puts honor and vengeance above everything else, even common sense. When he makes a typically modern plea to stop the killing, it doesn’t come off as weak but as a sincere attempt of a “tired” man to cease pointless bloodshed. Murad rejects it and dies for it, but his other sons are still out there, ready to continue the war.
Before the carnage begins, Bryan and Kim enjoy a leisurely cruise on the Bosporus. Bryan notes that on one side of the strait is Europe and one is Asia, and that all the great conquests from East to West or West to East made this crossing. The Mills family is playing tourist in conquered Constantinople, and they barely escape with their lives.
As the first film shows, the enemy is forming colonies even within the Western heartland, and law enforcement is unable or unwilling to stop them. The crossing has been made, the borders are shifting, and even though Liam Neeson saves the day this time (was there every any doubt?), there’s no reason to believe the battle won’t continue. Bryan Mills wants to leave violence in the past, but Murad’s sons still live and might return for (God help us) Taken 3.
The West wants a peace so it can pursue pleasure and entertainment at the End of History. Taken 2 shows that the war will continue regardless, even if only one side wants to keep fighting.