The Problem with Wonder Woman

Here’s my hot take Wonder Woman review in a nutshell: It’s a good movie, not without its flaws but easily the best one to come out of the DC cinematic universe to date and probably the best DC movie since The Dark Knight. Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman and it shows; you can see where the executives were brawling and biting nails, but you can also see where the actress was given free rein to just be Diana, Princess of Themyscira. There are moments and scenes that have more emotional weight than just about any other superhero film to date, there’s a clear progression of plot and power escalation, and more clear character arcs than any DC film since they started the drive towards a shared universe.

It’s the equal or better of more than a few Marvel movies, especially during Phase One. Most of my gripes have more to do with special effects and the constraints of keeping it PG-13. I give it a solid 4 out of 5.

But as I was talking with my fiancée afterwards, she brought up a pretty damn good point about what was wrong with it. Namely, Steve Trevor’s role. We went back and forth a couple times before coming to the joint realization of why he was kind of a weak point.

Below be spoilers.

Spoiler
I’m not recycling this at all.

I was and still am mostly okay with Trevor’s role in the film. It wasn’t what I was expecting but it did a good job of being the short-lived tragic romance that brings Diana to the mortal world and introduces her to the handful of good, redeeming characteristics of it.

My initial beef was that he was just too good, too central in a film that wasn’t about him, but as the movie went on it was continually established just how out of his league he was in having anything to do with Diana. The role he and his fellow soldiers play is to help establish Diana as a unique kind of superhero: She is not above the fray, like a Superman or a Batman. She’s a hero of the people. Her allies are men, yes, but they’re relatively diverse, complicated men and they’re the folks who’d be on the front lines in that era.

His character arc comes to a natural conclusion with a heroic sacrifice; this sacrifice gives Diana the rage and then the clarity needed to take out the film’s Big Bad.

A little hokey, but sure, whatever, love interests dying to motivate heroes ain’t exactly new and I’m kinda cool with it being a guy for once.

the-night-gwen-stacy-died

The problem, which my fiancée and I hit upon during the end credits, is that this was pretty much the first time a love interest in a superhero flick had that kind of arc – a near-equal role with the hero. And it was a guy. In the first superhero movie dedicated to a female lead.

I’m not tooting my own horn here, but I’m a comic book nerd and I’ve seen most of the superhero movies released in the past ~30 years. I’ve missed a couple that might have similar arcs (the second Garfield Spider-Man movie, arguably Suicide Squad, etc), but this was the first one where I really saw anything like Steve Trevor.

Most superheroic love interests get solid screen time in one to three movies, then drop off the face of the Earth to probably never to be seen again. See: Natalie Portman, whose Jane broke up with Thor off-screen for no apparent reason, or Gwyneth Paltrow, whose Pepper Potts didn’t show up at all in Tony’s recent outings. By comparison, Mary Jane made out like a bandit in the original Spider-Man movies. The less said of Famke Jensen’s Jean Grey, the better, and that’s not even going into her own nominal husband’s fate.

Their arcs, if they have any, are basically filler. They’re usually there to give a male hero something to work for or something to risk; difficult things to do when your hero is bulletproof (re: Lex Luthor throwing Lois off a building in BvS or Jane being a plot device in Thor 2).

Steve Trevor ain’t like that. Steve runs after Diana through No Man’s Land and washes out German trenches with a shotgun. Steve’s a spy, an international man of mystery, someone who could practically be a superhero in his own right – and he is in several comics, as DC treats him like Captain America Lite sometimes.

has-gal-gadot-s-wonder-woman-found-her-steve-trevor

The closest parallels to that are Natalia Romanov and Gamora, both in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don’t really count Gamora since she’s part of a clear ensemble cast and has to carry more narrative weight than Token Love Interest for Peter Quill.

That leaves Romanov, whose arcs in Civil War and Winter Soldier are both roughly comparable to Trevor…except that in both she’s still reacting to and being shaped by male leads. And let’s not even talk about the Age of Ultron. Or the fact that Natalia’s been the #2 or #3 character in around five films now. They might finally give her a movie after Infinity War, but I have my doubts, and after Ghost in the Shell I’m not exactly a ScarJo fan.

What I’m saying is that Trevor himself isn’t the problem. He’s fine. It’s the fact that he’s a one-of-a-kind that’s the problem. And he probably only manages that because he’s an American military man. There need to be more Stephanie Trevors out there.

Give us Pepper Potts wrangling corporate jackasses and mastering fire powers or something else that inspires Tony to finish out a character arc. Give us Jane having the awesome revelation that lets Thor save the day, assuming she doesn’t verbally mangle Loki herself.

Hell, give us more female co-stars who aren’t love interests.

Is that really too much to ask?

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