The Liam Neeson-starring Taken series (2008-2014) is really more a fantasy franchise than an action one. Like most fantasy, every character is a “bad guy” or a “good guy”, and, because the Taken series centers around a father-daughter relationship, the themes can only be described as “dad fantasy”. The entire series, but the first movie in particular, is riddled with too-good-to-be-true fantasy element meant to appeal to dads. It’s not wrong to enjoy the Taken series, but join us as we explore the not-so-subtle “dad fantasy” elements that the movie employs to appeal to movie-going fathers.
In the original Taken (2008) we meet Bryan (Liam Neeson) as he shops for a birthday present for his 17-year old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). So, one thing is already established in this first scene, he’s a great dad. Because, you know, he buys stuff for his kid (the gifting aspect gets even weirder in Taken 3 where Kim’s in college and Bryan shows up at her apartment with an obnoxiously large teddy bear, a cumbersome and odd gift to give to someone in their early twenties).
When he shows up to the birthday party we learn a few more things. He is divorced, and his ex and the mother of his child (Lenore or “Lenny”) is remarried to a rich guy named Stuart. Kim likes Bryan’s present of a karaoke machine, but loves the horse that Stuart gets her. This scene establishes several points. Once again, Bryan is a “good dude”. He got a nice present that fits with Kim’s (absurd) goal of being a singer. However, despite being a flawlessly “good dude” he cannot compete with Stuart’s money. It’s pretty clearly spelled out throughout the series that even though Bryan is a better guy in all other facets of life (particularly ass-kicking, where Bryan scores a 9.8/10 on the Chuck Norris Scale), Stuart’s money is the trump card that makes Bryan’s ex-wife and daughter prefer him. Otherwise Stuart is a little worm (whose worminess reaches its pinnacle in Taken 3 when he sells out the whole clan) with nice cars and a great house. So here’s dad fantasy number one, which particularly relates to divorced dads: If your ex-wife finds a new guy and your kids like him, it’s not because he’s better than you, it’s his money. In fact, he’s probably evil, they just don’t know it yet.
Later in Taken we find out that Kim wants to go to Europe but needs Bryan’s parental consent. Lenny is totally cool with the whole plan. In fact, she’s even cool with lying to Bryan about the real nature of Kim’s trip, which is not to tour museums in Paris as stated, but to follow U2 on tour (Ooh, risky!). You only need to watch about 30 seconds of Kim’s time on screen to know she is not mature enough to go to a Wiggles concert on the other side of town, to say the least of a concert tour in Europe. Only in a fantasy world would a mother have such willfully ignorant ambivalence about her teenage child’s safety. Which brings us to dad fantasy number two: Mother’s intuition is crap, only you truly know what’s best.
Well, of course Bryan is right and Kim is abducted within about 4 hours of landing in Europe. It’s the ultimate “I told you so moment” to your ex, but that will have to wait. Kim is on the phone with daddy (of course) as the abduction is happening and relays just enough info to the ex-counter intelligence agent Bryan so he can start tracking down the abductors with his “particular set of skills”. And just like that, Bryan goes from unwanted family outcast to MVP of all dads everywhere. And he now forever has the upper hand in any disagreement he has with his ex and Stuart, which might go like this:
Bryan: I know it’s not my weekend to spend time with Kim but I wanted to take her to the zoo…
Lenny and Stuart: No, sorry, we have plans.
Bryan: Hey, remember when Kim got abducted on that trip to Europe that you lied to me about and I warned you against? And how I was the only person who could save her from being sold as a sex slave? Which I totally did. Otherwise she would be a sex slave right now. Do you remember that?
Lenny and Stuart: (silence)
It’s all part of dad fantasy number 3: You are unappreciated by your family. But someday, that will change. They’ll see! They’ll all see!
It’s implied that part of the reason that Kim and her friend Amanda get abducted (or “taken” if you will) is that Amanda is not able to keep it in her pants and wants to jump the bones of the very first guy they meet in Europe. This is before even leaving the airport. This guy ends up being the scout for the abductors. But all the issues surrounding the two girls letting their guard down stem from Amanda, not Kim. In fact, Kim is explicitly stated to be a virgin, which is a weird thing to mention in an action movie, right? So here’s dad fantasy number 4: Your daughter is as pure as the driven snow. Any trouble she gets into is instigated by her awful “sexually active” friends.
Now, dads with daughters love saying how they’d “kill” any guy that does their daughter wrong (there’s the whole cleaning the gun when he picks her up cliché and all of that). Of course they can’t really do this in real life because they would go to jail. But along the way to rescuing Kim, Bryan kills a bunch of guys who are responsible (presumably, there’s no trial or evidence or anything) for kidnapping his daughter. He gets to fulfill dad fantasy number 5: If someone wrongs your daughter you will literally kill them.
Starting with the first film, the Taken series establishes that Kim really needs Bryan (in this case to be rescued). Kim also needs Bryan to advance her career (by introducing her to a famous singer he knows), teach her to drive, etc. And that theme extends all the way through the series. Even when Kim is in college and out on her own she is constantly getting into circumstances that she has no capacity to process. This gives Bryan the chance to be awesome, over and over again. What’s interesting is that by the time Taken 2 and 3 roll around, Kim has a boyfriend, Jamie. But he’s essentially worthless, disappearing for most of the third film while his girlfriend’s family is in crisis. It’s established that he’s an ok guy, but the depth of his relationship with Kim may never equal that of her father. In other words, this guy’s fine, but he’s no Bryan. So it’s pretty much dad fantasy number 6: Your helpless daughter will always need you and will never develop into an independent adult. And also number 7: Your beautiful daughter will never be safe with another man. You are the only one who can protect her.
Again, if you like the Taken franchise, this isn’t designed to make you feel guilty about that. But by examining the films ad looking at the underlying themes (which really aren’t underlying so much as boiling at the surface in Taken) you can develop a better understanding of why certain films appeal to certain people. The Taken series got pretty awful reviews (largely for lacking subtlety and depth) but were still very popular and made a ton of money. Leaning hard on the dad fantasy themes may not make for Oscar-worthy films, but it does sell tickets.