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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Wonder Woman.]
I never knew how much I wanted to see Robin Wright do a backflip off of a horse only to springboard off a shield and fire arrows into three German soldiers. Then I saw it in Wonder Woman, and I immediately knew I wanted to see it again. In a similar vein, watching Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) onscreen journey, there was an instant realization that he is a new entry in the superhero genre.
The history of superhero girlfriends is a long and storied one, from Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey to Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Rachel Dawes. These women are professional MacGuffins — plot points more than people. Their presence, and often inevitable deaths, are used to move the narrative forward and to inspire the third-act change of heart in their respective superheroes. With Steve Trevor, we have a fully realized character, who is as much an active participant in our heroine’s journey as he is in the larger narrative.
Trevor gives Diana (Gal Gadot) the space to make her case, even though she is still figuring out her argument. He doesn’t scoff at the sincerity with which she repeatedly tells him she wants to “save man,” and even if he doesn’t believe her whole, “if I kill the god of war I will stop all war” reasoning, he doesn’t label her with the suspected epithet of “crazy.” Instead, if for no other reason than getting the job done, Trevor and his merry band of misfits are fully willing to fall behind Wonder Woman, who literally takes the bullets for them.
The most prominent realization of this is when Trevor, along with Said Taghmaoui’s Sameer and Eugene Brave Rock’s The Chief, propel Wonder Woman into a bell tower to take out a sniper that is plaguing a Belgian village. This is a call back to Antiope (Wright) first fight scene between the Amazons and the Germans, where it is a woman lifting up another woman in order to accomplish a task to the best of everyone’s individual ability.
Trevor’s insecurities are realized both externally, when The Chief explains to Diana that Trevor’s “men” are the ones who stole his ancestors’ land, and personally, when Trevor himself acknowledges that he is not above man’s apparent penchant for war. Even the supporting characters are given the space to explain their motivations: The Chief has no home, Sameer couldn’t make it as an actor because his skin is “the wrong color” and Ewen Bremner’s Charlie has lost his nerve.
In the case of Wonder Woman, the presence of a fully formed protagonist does not come at the expense of the other characters. Moreover ego, especially male ego, does not get in the way of progress. Or, as Trevor succinctly puts it: “I can save today, but you can save the world.”
Director Patty Jenkins and the screenwriters were tasked with giving audiences their first major female superhero onscreen in more than a decade. (A task that was successfully completed to the tune of a $103.5 million opening weekend and a 76 percent on Metacritic). But, in the process, audiences got supporting characters and a love interest that wrestled with their own insecurities in a way that was unique within the crowded superhero space. This type of characterization is the work of strong filmmaker, who has trust in their story and actors, as well the audience. Because good filmmaking is about giving the audience things that they didn’t know they had always wanted.
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