Taken 2: A Tribute To The Middle Aged Action Hero

Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills tapped into the fantasies of every middle-aged man by going on a kicking-ass-and-taking-names session to find his daughter in Taken, and now he's back with Taken 2.
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Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills tapped into the fantasies of every middle-aged man by going on a kicking-ass-and-taking-names session to find his daughter in Taken, and now he's back with Taken 2.

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Many's the time I've been tricked on YouTube into watching what purported to be a studio-sanctioned trailer for a motion picture that I wasn't even aware was in production, only to find myself watching a homemade effort spliced together by some fanboy with too much time on his hands and not enough natural light in his basement. “This isn't the exclusive preview of the Joker 'origin' film I was promised” I'd think. “This is an unholy fusion of the trailers for The Dark Knight and 10 Things I Hate About You”.

So when a YouTube preview of the new Judge Dredd film finished and I was prompted to view the “official” trailer for the upcoming Taken 2, I'm not sure what compelled me to click on the link. I was expecting the usual mongrel mish-mash of clips from the original film spliced with footage culled from Unknown, Five Minutes of Heaven, or any ofa half a dozen other Liam Neeson performances.

In fact, given the trailer's initial reliance on flashbacks to the action of the original film, it was a full forty seconds in (with brand-spanking-new footage of Neeson and Famke Janssen reuniting in a hotel lobby) before I realised I was, indeed, watching a bona-fide studio trailer and not a fan edit.

They've only gone and made a bloody sequel to Taken, haven't they? And - to quote Anchorman's Brian Fantana - I'm very aroused.

2008's Taken came seemingly out of nowhere. Shot on a modest $25 million budget, it went on to make over a quarter of a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. Despite a collective “meh” from critics, the marketing campaign drew the crowds like moths to a flame, and focussed on Neeson's gravelly tones as his Bryan Mills character issues a hard-as-nails ultimatum to the men who have snatched his daughter on a trip to Paris: “If you let my daughter go now, that will be the end of it. But if you don't, I will look for you....I will find you....and I will kill you.”

Bryan Mills is quite simply the ultimate fantasy figure for a generation of men who find themselves belittled at every turn by the constant drip, drip of popular culture.

Now, a student of film study might say that the character of Bryan Mills is clearly the thinly-disguised embodiment of US foreign policy during the Bush presidency; the wielding of brute force with scant regard for the sovereignty of foreign states or international law, ostensibly in the name of right wing family values. It's true that, in defence of good old-fashioned American virginity, ex-CIA agent Mills has absolutely no compunctions regarding rendition, torture, murder and generally running around punching lots and lots of people in the throat. From a film studies point of view, this would be a valid point for discussion.

You know what I say? Fuck dat shit.

Bryan Mills is quite simply the ultimate fantasy figure for a generation of men who find themselves belittled at every turn by the constant drip, drip of popular culture. He's the ultraviolent projection of middle-aged men who are normally portrayed as only able to affirm their masculinity by weatherproofing the garden fence faster than the bloke next door. For men who've watched the bloke from the Yorkie advert go from a workboot wearing big-rig truck driver that you absolutely did not fuck with, to a hapless streak of piss whose big achievement for the day is getting all the shopping in from the car in one go, Bryan Mills is the brutal and terrifyingly competent rebuttal to years of media emasculation.

For every man who's gone through life imagining himself the star of his own action film (and at last count, that was 99.999% of the male population, up to and including Dale Winton), Bryan Mills came along at just the right time. Jason Bourne was good enough for a while, but you couldn't help but feel that Matt Damon - with his waistline staying supernaturally trim over the course of the three films – was having a bit of a snide dig at how you'd let yourself go over the same five year period. The “more realistic” reboot of the Bond franchise still set the bar impossibly high for men who were closer to Mark Addy than Daniel Craig when you put them in a pair of swimming trunks. For middle-aged men everywhere, a new hero was born with the release of Taken – and Bryan was his name.

For the first ten minutes of the film, Neeson plays the part of put-upon middle-aged man to perfection: under a selection of baggy sweatshirts, drab polo shirts and formless trousers, he fades into the background (which is the primary role of most middle-aged men, but apparently a trait we share with highly trained ex-CIA operatives). He lives in a shitty condo and makes satisfyingly pained noises when he heaves himself off the sofa, drives across town to prevaricate about buying a crappy karaoke machine for his daughter's birthday, and he's crestfallen when her smug, rich stepdad upstages him with the gift of a pony. His gawky attempts to talk to the pop diva he's tasked with protecting are met with a snotty put-down. Up to this point, Bryan Mills could be played by Steve Martin in full on, Doting-But-Ineffectual-Dad mode.

Of course, we know there are hidden depths to Mr. Mills, the same hidden depths that all domesticated men know in their hearts they also possess - that's why we like to quietly pretend Homebase is in fact Q's weapons testing lab. For a start, his admiring former comrades tell great stories about his time in the service (and they're not stories that start with “remember when you were so drunk we clingfilmed you to a door, left you propped up against a wall in Grafton Street and went for a curry?”). Secondly, at one point he was obviously Alpha enough to cop off with Famke Janssen. She may have divorced him and married some other geezer, but that geezer happens to have his own multinational corporation, a private jet, and a big fuck-off mansion in a part of Los Angeles that makes 90210 look scuzzy. So Bryan, as low-rent as he is, obviously took an awful lot of replacing.

Ten minutes in, Mills explodes into action, and goes from slightly dorky oaf to stalker's worst nightmare as he savagely disarms (and probably cripples) a knifeman waiting in the wings of the pop diva's concert. She - and we - are suitably impressed, but this is just a brief taste of things to come.

For the next twenty minutes of screen time, Bryan has to suffer his ex-wife's withering glare and seemingly infinite exasperation as he's told that he's being needlessly paranoid and over-protective of his daughter when he refuses to agree to her expedition to France. Finally he relents, and the unaccompanied trip to Paris is back on – and within an hour of their arrival, his daughter and her friend are snatched by human traffickers. His CIA contacts reliably inform him that he has only 96 hours to locate her before she disappears into the murky currents of the international sex trade.

One thing is certain – if Bryan manages the near-impossible and rescues his daughter, by default he gets to win every argument he may have with his ex-wife ever, ever again. With this little fact no doubt firmly in mind, he sets to work.

It's at this point that Neeson's character becomes the full-blown hero figure of every downtrodden male of a certain age currently residing on planet Earth. For every bloke that's ever put the key in the front door and realised too late that he was supposed to bring some milk back with him, or that he's missed the deadline to renew the claim to family tax credits, for every man who doesn't know how to restore the Safari icon to their Macbook's task bar, visited the Genius Bar and been offended by their arrogance, Bryan Mills is about to set the gold standard in supremely capable, methodical, bone-crunching Do Not Fuck With Me-ness. When provoked, this is not the sort of man who gets to work on a Monday morning and thinks “Bollocks. I didn't put the recycling out for collection.”

if Bryan manages the near-impossible and rescues his daughter, by default he gets to win every argument he may have with his ex-wife ever, ever again

Quickly commandeering step-dad's private jet, he gets himself to Paris and starts hurting the people responsible for his daughter's kidnap. Not only hurting them, but telling them how he's hurting them (“The next one drives a rib into your lungs!”). Now, we're all modern men, we know that that violence doesn't solve anything; but beating the shit out of someone (who had it coming) and keeping them up to date on your progress? Justhow fucking coolis that?

In fact, as Bryan demolishes half of Paris in the search for his daughter, I'm willing to bet that not one of the three dozen or so blokes that he kills can resist being massively impressed by his dogged refusal to just sit everyone down, talk things through, and see if they can reach some sort of agreement. If they were to return from the dead, I'm certain their first words to him would be “Look mate, I know we didn't always get along – what with you having to kill me an' all – but can I just say something? Absolutely fair fucking play to you. I mean, that bit where you hid under the pile of bodies you'd just made and shot me as I came through the door? That was fucking brilliant. On behalf of men everywhere, can I buy you a drink?”

The crowning moment of Bryan's rampage through Paris comes when he discovers that his old counterpart Jean-Claude has been trying to derail his search for his daughter not just to prevent a bloodbath, but also because he's been taking bribes to turn a blind eye to the sex traffickers' operation. To get the answers he needs, Mills turns up uninvited to dinner and – in an act that will save him a fortune in Christmas cards and postage to France for years to come – shoots Jean-Claude's wife in the arm. Obviously, this leaves Jean-Claude with a shitload of explaining to do to his other half, but even he must look back on the incident and think “Best. Evening. Ever”. You can imagine his faltering attempts to broach the subject:

Jean-Claude: “You remember the last time Bryan was here?”
Isabelle: “You mean when he shot me in the arm?”
Jean-Claude: “Yes.....look, I've explained about that. He'd spent the whole afternoon in the Apple store, and you know what they're like. He just really needed to shoot something. I've told you he said sorry, and I seem to remember scraping the plates and doing the washing up for weeks afterwards..... anyway....remember that bit when he said about forgetting the difference in the weight of a gun that's loaded, and one that's not....?”
Isabelle: “This would be the bit just before he shot me in the arm?”
Jean-Claude: “I wish you wouldn't go on about it. Yes, that bit. Don't you think.....don't you think that was just really, reallycool?”
Isabelle: “Right, that is fucking it! I'm going to bed and you're doing the recycling for the next month. Con!

Enjoy the trailer....and remember lads, those tax credit renewal forms have to be in by 31st July. If Bryan can find his daughter, then you can find that bastard P60.

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