The Problem with a Hollywood Steve Trevor
I conceded that the Wonder Woman movie was doomed the moment I heard that they cast Chris Pine as Steve Trevor.
Despite DC Comics’ continued negligence of the biggest female superhero of all time—perhaps related to DC’s policy that the Group Editor who oversees her and Superman’s books can’t work in the same department as women, lest he sexually assault them—the company has recently made a number of efforts to bring her love interest—but an otherwise tertiary character—Steve Trevor into the spotlight. This has included him founding the government agency A.R.G.U.S with Amanda Waller in the New 52 and his appearances in recent DC animated movies, including Throne to Atlantis.
Considering the DC audiences’ main impression of Steve Trevor probably comes from his infrequent and impotent cameos in the DC cartoons of their youth, it’s difficult to see why those in charge are trying this direction.
That being said, casting Pine as Trevor hints that Warner Brothers’ idea is to push forward with the character and potentially (probably) give him a significant role in the upcoming Wonder Woman film. While Pine’s career still has room for growth, his star has ascended with his performance as Captain James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ cinematic reboot of Star Trek. One of Hollywood’s white, blond, and blue-eyed actors unhampered by obstacles such as racism or sexism, his agents aren’t likely to make a slip-up now by letting him pursue roles where he’s just a love interest.
Like any other medium produced by Americans, Hollywood films and Marvel/DC comics are innately saddled with American prejudices. As such, film and comics have both always cast aside women, victimized women, and put women up as trophies for male obtainment instead of developing them as characters in their own right. I don’t need to go on—if you’ve been reading Women Write About Comics regularly or any mainstream cultural critique at all, you likely already know the drill. However, the Wonder Woman mythos, intentionally or not, provided an exception in Steve Trevor where the character was as incapable, distracting, and had as much the need to be saved as a countless number of women in stories.
“Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world,” the character’s creator, William Moulton Marston, said. He meant it quite literally—he and original Wonder Woman artist H.G. Peters were both part of the progressive feminist movement of their time and Marston was a matriarchist, who made several more similar statements about women one day ruling the world. Whether or not one believes gender progress should take the form Marston suggested, you will be hardpressed to find a person who disagrees that little girls deserve heroes they can look up to as much as little boys do.
The fact is, superhero comics are a practice of the American exaltation of individualism. A superhero is defined as a person that rises above the others who surround them, who has a quality—traditionally, paranormally sourced powers that are paired with a strong sense of compassion—that makes them special. That usually means that supporting characters take a backseat, at best finding ways to bolster the hero when they find themselves in a tight spot or at worst getting themselves into the line of fire.
In the patriarchal society we live in, it’s women who are mostly forced to take that backseat. Thus, we have our Lois Lanes, our Nalas, our Bond girls. Women who, if they don’t work with the protagonist, are twisted into tools to be worked against them. Some of these female characters, if they last long enough, have their stories told and their abilities fleshed out into something more. But most of the time, the story ends and they can’t take spotlight from the male character designated “hero.”
This isn’t to say that Warner Brothers is wrong to try to flesh out Steve Trevor for the Wonder Woman movie—any film needs rounded characters. But there is a suspicious rush to give that character leverage. It took 20 years for Lois Lane to get her own comic book series and three Mad Max films (through 36 years) before this year’s beloved Mad Max: Fury Road explored a female character with driving agency. Men have millions of beloved, developed male film characters to look to while most women can only count the number of female film protagonists they can relate to or feel empowered by in the last ten years on both hands. Why debase your company by catering to those who are already spoiled? Why not reach out to a demographic that spends more money on movies than men do in this day and age?
Like Olaf from Frozen, Trevor may be a tool WB intends to use to appeal to the male demographic. But what they should really do is angle the character in a way that has him support the female audience’s priorities. That means not showing him as chauvinistic and gross as James Kirk appeared in the threesome scene he’s introduced in for Star Trek: Into Darkness. That means having him behave more akin to Max in Mad Max: Fury Road. As Chase Magnett from ComicBook.com puts it, “Max isn’t the character who drives the action, who infuses the film with its most potent themes, who follows the most dramatic character arc, or who achieves the greatest victory in Fury Road. All those claims belong to [Imperator] Furiosa.”
Max and Fury Road’s other important male character, Nux, “chose to become actively involved in the women’s struggle, and to do so by offering assistance.” This can be witnessed in some of the movie’s scenes such as Nux abandoning all his prior beliefs to drag Furiosa’s truck out of sticking mud and Max handing a rifle over to Furiosa for the final shot, understanding that she has superior aim. “They do not take charge. They do not shout orders. They do not demean their allies. They offer assistance. They provide advice. They support their friends.”
It is already problematic that Pine’s reputation already far exceeds Gal Gadot, who’s casted as Wonder Woman. This contrasts the strategy of Mad Max: Fury Road, where the person who plays Max (Tom Hardy) has not achieved the fame of who portrays Furiosa (Charlize Theron). In order to level out the playing field, the Wonder Woman script is going to need a balance between the two leads that has Trevor further show Diana’s strength, not display his own. However he plays the character, Pine will need to take a few lessons as well—the original iteration of Trevor was never ashamed to admit that she had sharper diplomatic and combat skills than he did. If anything, the few things Trevor commented on only indicated his gratitude that this incredible woman shared her love. He accepted without question that the story was never about him.
In fact, none of this is about Steve Trevor. It’s about how Disney had so little faith in Frozen that it marketed it with trailers that centered around minor male character, Olaf. It’s about how in Man of Steel, Jimmy Olsen was switched to Jenny Olsen because the character had to be saved from a collapsed building and god forbid a male seem weak in any way, while women always take that heat. It’s about how having a Wonder Woman movie coming in 2017 only looks really good in comparison to DC’s main competitor, Marvel, who has so little faith in female superheroes and characters that it rebuffs fan questions about them and has avoided a female-led movie until, at current projections, 2019 (not counting the scrap of an Ant-Man sequel they recently announced).
It’s about how male ego and comfort always triumphs woman’s security, in herself and in the oppressive society she lives in. That’s not something Steve Trevor nor Diana Prince, if they were real people, would want. That’s not something anyone should want.