OPINION: Reject Modernity, Embrace Tradition — Can We Bring Back Strong Men and Feminine Women to the Action Genre?

Action films are not about subverting expectations, but about fulfilling fantasies

In a time when Hollywood is functionally addicted to the notion of “Subverting Expectations,” the classic action film genre seems to be the biggest victim of Tinsel Town’s desire to change the most basic aspects of human nature through media programming. 

Action movies, once a fun genre dominated by burly, hypermasculine men like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Sylvester Stallone, has seen that type of actor replaced with a truly awful trope known as the panicky male lead. Popularized by the likes of Shia LaBeouf in the Transformers franchise, this type of action star did not succeed through strong physical prowess or tactical knowhow, but rather by comically blundering about in a way that made audiences wonder how they could ever manage to actually survive the film. 

While LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky character at least seemed to possess great courage and loyalty, the panicky male lead trope has devolved and male characters seem to exist only to remind the audiences just how little Hollywood thinks of traditional men. To whom does this appeal? Guys? Only if those watching these movies decided to no longer look at the strong, competent masculine male archetype as something to aspire to. Women? Certainly no red-blooded woman who finds strength, courage and the instinct to protect others attractive would want to indulge in a movie where the heroic rescue fantasy is ruined by a useless guy blundering about; a guy who only survives due to sheer luck and the help of more competent female characters. 

Why are men acting distinctly feminine while the women are being told the only way to be strong is by taking on male traits? None of these subversive Hollywood ideas are in anyway representative of the human condition. Such ideas do not resonate with regular people, but they do resonate with Hollywood and the Hollywood agenda. After all, they are the ones who want to see the idea of the traditional masculine and feminine archetypes disappear as they push to demonize all traits that render men and women unique in society because they themselves embody none of those qualities. Hollywood men are not going to be saving the day anytime soon and Hollywood women rarely promote the nurturing nature that the divine feminine embodies.

Last year’s Top Gun: Maverick and the 2021 Amazon Prime Series Reacher proved that even an industry as progressive as Hollywood can’t change basic human nature overnight. Maverick made over a billion dollars without any help from China and critics were stunned to see the reboot of Jack Reacher do as well as it did. 

Why did they succeed? Because both productions refused to subvert our expectations in the name of an agenda. Both gave us strong willed, competent male characters who did what needed to be done. They were not shamed, talked down to or lectured for their original sin of being men. 

Because Hollywood has been working overtime to degrade these types of characters, I sat on pins and needles throughout all of Maverick, waiting for the inevitable lecture from the younger generation of pilots, some vomit-inducing speech about Toxic Masculinity or Privilege, but it never came. I couldn’t believe it and when Maverick took off into the sunset with Penny on the back of his motorcycle as Lady Gaga’s 2022 love ballad “Hold My Hand” blared through the end credits. I was floored in a way I almost cannot explain. 

I had the same experience during Reacher when Alan Ritchson, the titular character, towers over everyone, soft-spoken but undeniably imposing. He is not stereotyped as a brutish oaf but rather a skilled tactician with an eye for clues due to his time as a member of the military police. Characters he encounters understand who he is and what they are dealing with and he is never taken down a peg in the name of modernity. Much like the final scene in Maverick, I found myself equally shocked when Reacher and Roscoe have a fairly graphic shower scene together. I couldn’t remember the last time a male character was allowed to be all things Hollywood calls toxic and also get the girl. 

The truly sad thing about the rarity of these examples is that when it comes down to it, action films are not about subverting expectations, but about fulfilling fantasies. It’s about the desire of the common man to embrace the masculine, rise to the occasion, become a hero, face down danger, save the damsel in distress and protect the world from villainous evil. It’s about the desire of the everyday woman to embrace the feminine and embody the divine beauty and creator of life and family that gives a strong-willed, heroic man a reason to take all that life throws at him without giving up, so he can persevere and save the day when all hope seems to be lost. 

These are primal, deeply rooted human desires that run to our very core. No matter what Hollywood says about gender roles, those of us who are not ideologically chained to modern progressive ideals understand this type of fantasy is not a bad thing, but rather an affirmation of some of the greatest experiences we as human beings could ever hope to have.

If Hollywood truly wanted to subvert expectations, they would be giving viewers films that refuse to denigrate the role of men and masculinity, films that show a woman as the type of pure, gentle, nurturing beauty that gives a man the strength he needs to save the day. The role reversal experiment has gone on long enough and it is time to get back to the movies, roles and characters that jive with what regular men and women want from their escapist entertainment. 

Truly subverting our expectations in 2023 would require action movies that celebrate all the good that can come from a society full of strong men and nurturing women. I challenge everyone to go back and re-encounter the action movies from decades past that truly spoke to you. See how much faster you connect with characters that actually reflect our desired roles as men and women. Notice how much easier it is to buy into even the most absurd of action movie heroics when we stop pretending like there isn’t a difference between men and women. Watch these old movies and tell me you don’t feel a rush of gratitude from being shown something traditional without it feeling as though you were being shamed for liking it. 

No matter what overpaid actors and Hollywood executives tell us, expectations do not always need to be subverted. It is, in fact, valid — even commendable — to want something traditional, especially from your entertainment.

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