A New Generation of Conservative Thought

The Expendables: Hollywood's anti-Obama Tea Party rally

By Dr. Grace Vuoto
August 26, 2010

It is ironic that the only effective conduct of foreign affairs this summer is featured in a Hollywood movie. The Expendables, a blockbuster action flick featuring Sylvester Stallone and a panoply of past and present action stars, reminds us how Americans used to conduct their foreign affairs—swift, merciless against our enemies, decisive, brimming with self-confidence and promoting self-rule. In this film, there is no ambiguity about the enemy, no effete rules of engagement, no protracted nation-building campaign, no apology for who we are and no American guilt for past wrongs. In fact, the movie reminds us how we used to view ourselves; it recalls our lost self-respect. No wonder audiences are flocking to it: The Expendables is the Obama antithesis in a summer of discontent.

While the plot is preposterous, the themes resonate. A group of mercenaries are hired to overthrow a ruthless South American dictator, Gen. Garza, in a mythical island nation called Vilena. Yet Gen. Garza is really under the thumb of a malevolent American businessman, James Munroe, played by Eric Roberts. Both Gen. Garza and the American exploit the nation.

At first, the macho posse of mercenaries hired to overthrow the general is interested only in work for cash. Yet, Barney Ross, the team leader played by Mr. Stallone, is smitten by the brave and idealistic Sandra, Gen. Garza’s daughter who is in rebellion against him. Sandra, played by Gisele Itie, stands for all that is good and noble in a corrupt land: She represents love of the people, love of self-government, and love of benevolent and altruistic leadership. She is the nation’s truest soldier. And she is captured and waterboarded by Munroe as he seeks information on the American mercenaries.

Sandra’s straightforward love of her country is the centerpiece of the movie. Ross is at first haunted and then transformed by her pure love of Vilena: He too then emulates her altruism by returning to the island—not for cash, but this time to help a beleaguered woman and her people. His team also joins him, acting as loyal friends rather than mercenaries. As such, the squad is redeemed.

Many explosions and action scenes later, Sandra is rescued and her nation is freed. Gen. Garza recognizes his errors, turns against his American overlords and tells his daughter: “You are what I should have been.” Not surprisingly, the evil capitalist Munro and the general are killed in the fighting. In the penultimate scene, Sandra tells Ross how grateful she is. Yet, the Americans do not stay to help Sandra with the erection of a new state. “I am always around,” says Ross, indicating he will return if ever the nation needs him. In other words, the Americans will be distant, benevolent patrons.

This depiction of swift military action, efficient defeat of enemies and the speedy departure of force is nothing short of stunning—even if it is in a Hollywood action fantasy. After long years of seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have forgotten what victory looks like. Long gone are the days of World War I and World War II where a few years was sufficient to achieve stated military objectives.

The Expendables is the typical all-American action flick, full of macho one-liners, clichés and thin dialogue and plot. Neither the cast nor crew will win an Oscar for their work. In addition, The Expendables will likely be as quickly forgotten as the summer haze. Nonetheless, the movie is delightfully and unabashedly conservative, deliberately flouting the mealy-mouthed political correctness of our elites.

In this picture, the men love to fight, are rough and brutish, defend and protect women, enjoy each others’ company and say few words. They are the testosterone-filled silent types who get the tough work done of serving and protecting—and they get little reward or recognition. They are, aptly titled, apparently expendable in our day and age. Yet, the film is telling us that "these expendables" are the cornerstones of America.

Also, unlike in more recent action films, the women are not co-equal warriors. They are in need of the physical strength and prowess of men, while surpassing them in virtue. In The Expendables, woman ennobles man—a long-held traditional understanding of gender roles. Men serve women without wanting cheap sex in return. Sandra and Ross’s relationship is purely platonic—not even a kiss is exchanged. As such, it harkens back to the medieval ideals of courtly love. This is what Western literature−and the golden age of Hollywood−used to celebrate.

To America’s elites, these themes are simplistic and old-fashioned. Yet the people evidently think otherwise, as the movie is currently at the top of the box office. The Expendables is in essence the Hollywood version of the Tea Party, as the people flout the values and tastes of our political and cultural elite.

Credit has to be given to Mr. Stallone who wrote, directed and starred in the movie. His recent return to Catholicism, the faith of his youth, is apparent in the movie, as it is replete with the theme of forgiveness and redemption. Even the Judas of the film, Gunner Jensen played by Dolph Lundgren, betrays the crew, attempts to assassinate Ross but is ultimately forgiven. In this film, minus all the bodies flying and all the broken bones, Sly wants us to know he is at peace with himself and the world. His hulky brand of Christianity is brimming in every scene.

“The more I go to church,” Mr. Stallone said in a 2007 interview with Focus on the Family, “and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to His Word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now.” And it shows, as his most recent film, and the accompanying interviews in its promotion, reveal a more mature and poised actor.

Mr. Stallone was in fact injured during shooting: he cracked his chest plate during a scene in which he was slammed against a brick wall. Thus, he has shown more grit and bravery in the service of American ideals than the current U.S. president whose bark is much bigger than his bite.

If the box-office success of The Expendables is a barometer of public opinion, we can surmise it is high-time to overthrow the conflicted Obama foreign policy in favor of a muscular America on the world stage that deals decisive death blows to our enemies, treats our allies with respect and stands proudly for our long-cherished ideals. The Expendables may be second-rate filmmaking, but it is first-rate American idealism and can teach our Ivy League president a basic lesson on the proper use of American power.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.