In his review of Taken 3, the Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri refers to the film and its ilk probingly as “Dadsploitation.” In most revenge films, The Horrible Thing—a loved one gets hurt—happens, then becomes backstory. In the Taken films, the threats are sustained, and the Mills women’s lives are perpetually imperiled. The 48-hour time period Mills has to save Kim from a life of sexual slavery in Taken, for example, keeps the potential terrible fate constantly urgent and imaginable. Fathers aren’t allowed to forget what nightmares might await Kim, and by extension, their own child. The Taken series never stops stoking—as the Vanity Fair critic James Wolcott puts it—“the fear and fury of perdition enflamed by the prospect of young female sexuality defiled.”
As Slate’s Dana Stevens writes, “The notion of an über-competent, unstoppably brave, impossibly calm superdad who will find and protect you at all costs … well, that’s powerful stuff.” The Taken films are partly love letters to fathers in that sense. But they’re love letters composed by dipping ink into fears dads try not to think about. They invoke bad feelings to invoke entertaining ones, and seize on real fears to fulfill unreal fantasies. As enjoyable as it is to see Mills use his “very particular set of skills” to save and avenge his family, it’s problematic that the series depends so heavily on terrible things happening to his most cherished relations.