Directed by: Olivier Megaton. Am I the only one who silently utters the subtitle “Electric Boogaloo” whenever they see this title? After seeing the first movie in my short-lived (but still strong) Liam Neeson fascination, this sequel was on my list from the moment it came out. Again, not because I thought it would be a subtle, intelligent, well thought-out piece of art cinema, but because it looked like a fun, knuckle-dragging, good old-fashioned masculinist Hollywood good time. And, to that extent, I really do appreciate this French take on what I perceive to be an inherently American/80’s/Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger paradigm. I feel like the Transporter movies fit into this category (without having seen any of them), and I find it really interesting to see a Euro Disney equivalent in the action film genre. This film, for instance, is produced by fucking Luc Besson instead of, say, Jerry Bruckheimer. You see what I’m getting at? With these French interpretations of the American brain-dead action drama, I can have my cake and eat it too—it’s a dumb guy movie, but a French dumb guy movie. I’ve alluded before to a notion I’ve had that Neeson is kind of a modern day Schwarzenegger, and I’m not going to go into that now (although I’d love to chew on that for an essay). All of this notwithstanding, when I look at the notes I took at the time ( I actually took notes for a change!), I really can’t escape the conclusion that my stereotypical assumptions were (obviously) ridiculous and that this movie can’t really be excused from how blatantly Islamophobic and patriarchal it is. All of that notwithstanding, I still really enjoyed it. How am I to square these two things? Call me what you want, but in cases like this, when I just really want a big slice of escapism cake, it will take an awful lot to make me spit out my mouthful. This film was pretty blatant in its trespasses, and probably even a bit more so than the first one. It had a major case of overblown sequel-itis (see Alien 2), ie: the precarious sense of danger that informed the first movie is blown up to almost parodic proportions in the second movie in a way that suggests an obviously commercial motivation for making a follow-up to a successful film rather than the continuation of a story that needed to be continued.
Basically, all of my notes from this movie (taken in real time) revolve around the not-incredibly-profound observations that this movie is a simplistic assertion of patriarchal values, strained through a modern day Orientalist lense. It’s a xenophobic dad fantasy of the most transparent kind. The major change from this movie to the last is interesting to note: in the last film, the enemy was a large, diffuse, abstract enemy made up of so many shadowy agents that each of the nominal “bad guys” to be targeted were just a part of the “bad guy chain” (Albanians if I’m correct?). The enemy was basically “Eastern Europe” as a scary bogey-man lying in wait for innocent virgin American girls the minute they set foot on European soil to kidnap and sell them into sex slavery. The main change here is that, this time, a lot of that abstract Eastern evil is concentrated in a solid individual bad guy—and it’s Rade Sherbedgia no less! And not only is the vague Eastern threat made more personified, but it’s made more explicitly Eastern (specifically, Muslim). To the extent that the first movie was a confirmation of every boring, suburban North American’s worst fears about travelling in the outside world (even to a place as tourist-friendly as fucking Paris), this sequel seems to be going out of its way to expose this kidnap-prone family in its Islamophobic context to an ever greater risk than the first movie by dropping them right in the center of Islamic Istanbul. I had a lot of observations about the different absurd qualities of Liam Neeson’s Superdad character Mills. He’s got Sherlock Holmes’ sense for orienting himself when blindfolded, James Bond’s near-superheroic ability to always be at the right place at the right time, and a psychopath’s obsessive quest for dominance and rightness, which the film paints as an admirable quality with the introductory episode with his car wash (“I’d rather do it myself—it’s a compulsion”). His violence, unlike Schwarzenegger’s or Stallone’s or Eastwood’s, is never intended to be cast as a symptom of some kind of psychological problem, but instead his violence is the cool-headed, rational, entirely appropriate and praiseworthy response to the situations he finds himself in. On the contrary, his personality never remotely reads as psychotic, or even a little inappropriate, because the film (with Liam’s cool performance) gives Mills an almost saintlike sense of moral rightness. His character is basically irreproachable in every way—he’s polite, he’s cool-headed, he’s a loving father. We basically can’t fathom why Famke Janssen would ever divorce him in the first place and we’re not remotely surprised to see her fall for him again. He’s a paragon of rightness, of Western moral virtue, made all the more virtuous by the nasty, slave-trading foils he’s surrounded by. He’s a completely paranoid individual, but the movie proves him right by showing us that the entire (Muslim) world is, in fact, out to get him and his family. And yet, I kind of loved watching it anyway. (Shoulder shrug!)
Next up, a book-length blog post comparing the ideological significance of Liam Neeson’s onscreen persona to that of Schwarzenegger’s. (Or maybe I’ll just watch a Schwarzenegger flick.)