vulture lists

8 Avenging Dads, From Taken to Ransom

After an eight-year sabbatical from action films to study Advanced Stigmata and Intro to Sugar Tits, Mel Gibson is back onscreen in Edge of Darkness doing what he’s been doing since 1979’s Mad Max: getting revenge. And in his new film, his activist daughter is killed, so he’s playing our favorite subset of this well-worn theme — the vengeful dad! Sob, worry, grieve, kill, kill, kill! So to celebrate Mel’s homecoming to the world of mom-and-pop street justice, we’ve picked eight of the maddest dad films around, noted their achievements in key eye-for-an-eye categories (displays of anguish, inflicted injuries), and ranked them in the only logical way: body count.

MAD DAD: Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a former CIA spy who uses his “preventer” skills to track down the daughter (Maggie Grace) that has been kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers. VENGEANCE CRY: “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.” DISPLAYS OF ANGUISH: Besides some trembling, flinching, and grimacing, Mills remains surprisingly stoic under the circumstances. INFLICTED INJURIES: More than twenty are karate-chopped, and one woman is shot. Nobody said mad dads were gallant. BODY COUNT: Thirty to thirty-five. Lesson: If someone tries to stop an Irishman’s daughter from seeing U2, he will make you pay dearly.
MAD DAD: Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe), determined to slay the man responsible for his dead wife and child, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). VENGEANCE CRY: “[I am] father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” DISPLAYS OF ANGUISH: Grunting, growling, grimacing, yelling, slobbering, sobbing, hallucinating. INFLICTED INJURIES: Just six, mostly in the cutting-off-of-extremities mode. But to be fair, it was kind of a sword culture. BODY COUNT: Twenty-four men and one tiger. Sorry, PETA, sometimes revenge has collateral damage.
MAD DAD: Recently retired FBI agent Frank Castle (a beefed-up Thomas Jane) goes rogue when the mob murders his wife and child. A skin-tight skull T-shirt allows him to survive gunshots, drowning, stab wounds, grenades, car accidents, and beatings by toilet bowls. VENGEANCE CRY: “This is not vengeance. Revenge is not a valid motive, it’s an emotional response. No, not vengeance. Punishment.” DISPLAYS OF ANGUISH: Whiskey guzzling, phantom tears, frequent narrowing of eyebrows, general unkemptness, clenched fists, prescient channeling of Christian Bale’s “Batman voice.” INFLICTED INJURIES: Four head and face injuries, and one torture scene involving a cherry Popsicle. BODY COUNT: Twenty-one. Henchmen get offed in ways ranging from standard shotgun blasts to death by boiling pasta to main baddie John Travolta’s fate: dragged into a giant stack of cars that explode to form a flame in the shape of a skull. That’s just sensible branding.
MAD DAD: Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) goes from “bleeding-heart liberal” to blood-seeking vigilante when three menaces (Not you, too, Jeff Goldblum! Nooooooo!) murder his wife and rape his daughter. Kersey takes a more scattershot approach to revenge, scouring the New York City streets looking for the assailants and any thug, punk, or degenerate who dares cross his path. VENGEANCE CRY: “What if the cops can’t handle this?” (More powerful with the squint.) DISPLAYS OF ANGUISH: Shaking, vomiting, boozing, and a whole lot of brooding. INFLICTED INJURIES: One sock full of quarters to the face of an attempted armed robber. BODY COUNT: Eleven (total does not include the four Death Wish follow-ups). While this total is simply average, extra credit must be given for its trendsetting nature.
MAD DAD: The macabre barber Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), who finds solace over his wife’s (supposed) suicide and the kidnapping of his young daughter by slitting the throats of his clients. VENGEANCE CRY: “And I will get him back even as he gloats/In the meantime I’ll practice on less honorable throats.” DISPLAYS OF ANGUISH: Bloodshot eyes, gray patch of hair, pale skin, incessant singing. INFLICTED INJURIES: None. Throat-slitting is an all-or-nothing approach. BODY COUNT: Ten. Nine by razor, one (Helena Bonham Carter) burned alive in an oven, emphatically and rather horrifically proving the poor actress really couldn’t sing a tune to save her life.
MAD DAD: John McClane (Bruce Willis), whose daughter Lucy has been kidnapped by a cyberterrorist whose plot he thwarted. VENGEANCE CRY: “Find Lucy, kill everybody else.” DISPLAYS OF ANGUISH: Clenched jaw, scowling, yelling, and meticulously timed one-liners. INFLICTED INJURIES: Six, though it’s McClane and his sidekick (Justin Long) who take most of the hits. But so goes the aging process. BODY COUNT: Five. A rather paltry number for McClane, though to his credit he does outrun a fireball, take down a fighter jet, and save the Fourth of July. Daughter walks away unscathed, though audience mourns the loss of “Yippee-Ki-Yay Motherfucker” to a PG-13 rating.
MAD DAD: Affluent New Englander Dr. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson), whose son is killed at his girlfriend’s apartment by a deadbeat ex later released from prison on a technicality. VENGEANCE CRY: To his wife, “Do you wanna know why our son is dead? Do you really wanna know? He was with her not because of me. He went there because of you … Because you are so controlling, so overbearing, so angry that he was it! That he was our only one!” DISPLAYS OF ANGUISH: Shock, crying, comatoselike demeanor, insomnia, shouting, general propensity to drive his wife to smash plates. INFLICTED INJURIES: None, though he himself likely suffered from grief rash. BODY COUNT: One. Wilkinson gets his revenge, but unlike with the other mad dads, visible blood flow is minimal, so it barely counts.
MAD DAD: Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson), a wealthy businessman whose son is snatched in Central Park by a cop gone bad (Gary Sinise) and his goons. Instead of paying the $2 million ransom, Mullen puts a bounty on the abductors’ heads, which is just good business. VENGEANCE CRY: “Give me back my son!” DISPLAYS OF ANGUISH: Scads! Gibson’s Mullen runs the gamut from furrowed brows to grunts to shouting, “Oh, Jesus!” (foreshadowing!) to a weepy breakdown on the balcony when he thinks his son has been murdered. INFLICTED INJURIES: One. Mullen beats his son’s kidnapper bloody, and takes a shot at him in the final showdown. BODY COUNT: Zero by his own hands. Which can only lead us to believe that he really didn’t love his son that much.
8 Avenging Dads, From Taken to Ransom