When I reviewed The Expendables in 2010 and wasn't all that impressed, I was stunned by just how angry commenters got. Not only because I didn't like it, but because I was a woman who didn't like it-- women, as everybody knows, are totally not qualified to review any movies that contain blood, explosions, or muscled-up dudes screaming while firing a machine gun. But after seeing The Expendables 2, a movie that actually bothers to include a woman in the lineup of badasses, I might have to agree with all those angry commenters: there is no room for women in this movie.
The Expendables 2 takes place in a world that, by default, is dominated by men, and to some extent this is true to life. Men are generally the bounty hunters and the soldiers-for-hire and the guys who storm into a terrorist safe house with gun blazing. Men are generally the terrorists too, for that matter, specifically the gun-runner type played by Jean Claude van Damme, who enlists an entire villages's worth of-- yes, men!-- to break into a retired Soviet mine and dig up a cache of plutonium. And all of our living classic action heroes, for better or for worse, are men-- you can argue for the ass-kicking prowess of Angelina Jolie or Gina Carano, but neither would really make sense to be included in this crew.
But The Expendables 2 does make room for one woman on the team, in what looks like a nod toward gender equity but quickly devolves into the same old pandering bullshit. Maggie (Nan Yu) is an expert safecracker sent to help them in a crucial part of the mission, but the minute he learns she's a woman, Sylvester Stallone's Barney snarls "I'm not a babysitter." Maggie teases him for this remark later, and proves adept at this very specific skill, but when things go wrong she's caught going into a war without the brawn or guns of her compatriots. At one point she pulls out some tools that suggest she's got major torture skills, but the scene cuts away before we can see it-- or so we can watch another scene of Jason Statham kicking somebody, maybe.
Luckily, as far as the movie sees it, she's got another skill-- inexplicably having the hots for Barney, who's not only decades older than her, but seems actively uninterested, which he explains later is all in the interest of her protection. You might remember that in The Expendables there was another woman who needed protection, which happened when Jason Statham beat up a bunch of guys on a basketball court. She's back briefly in this one (played by Charisma Carpenter), but mostly talked about as "that woman you can never fully trust." Yes, the only women in this movie with names are either untrustworthy bitches, or capable women who still need protecting, but only if they have the hots for one of the dudes.
It's not just that the one woman on the team doesn't really get into the fight until the end (and even then she fires off about one round for Stallone's 20). And it's not even that, when the Expendables roll into the Russian village where the miners are being shipped off to their death, they patronizingly promise the helpless women that they'll help. It's the way the men first arrive in the village and find themselves suddenly in a hail of gunfire that mysteriously seems to be missing them. This is nothing new in the world of The Expendables 2, where every one of our heroes gets out of every fight without a scratch, but this time they comment on it, quipping "The safest place to stand is in front of their guns!" Turns out the marksmen are such terrible shots because they're women. Not because they're injured women, just that they're women, and therefore inherently incapable of shooting a gun correctly. Yup.
When the terrorist baddies come back to the village to make 8-and-9-year-old boys work in the mines, you wonder why they wouldn't grab the able-bodied women first, but by then it basically feels beside the point. The Expendables 2 is mostly a movie about manliness in the most traditional, shoot-'em-up way, but it somehow thinks it can't do that without stopping to emphasize the weaknesses of the other sex at the same time. It would have been better to simply have no women, to focus on how men operate solely on their own, rather than try to shoehorn a token female Expendable and still leave the rest of the movie's women as either helpless victims or ruthless harpies. The Expendables 2 is not a movie with a female audience in mind-- and not every movie has to be. But it takes it a step too far by becoming outright dismissive or hostile to an entire half of the population that probably wouldn't mind getting in on the explosive fun.