This article contains MAJOR Wonder Woman spoilers.
Gal Gadot stole the show as Diana Prince in last year’s Wonder Woman, but Chris Pine‘s Steve Trevor made for a worthy sidekick/romantic interest—so much so that he will be returning for the sequel Wonder Woman 1984 when it hits theaters next summer despite being, you know, dead. As we wait another agonizing year for the next Wonder Woman film, let’s take a moment to appreciate one of Chris Pine’s most admirable qualities: his refreshing willingness to play “The Movie Boyfriend.”
The Movie Boyfriend — or, to put it more broadly, a male suppporting character in a female-centric film — shouldn’t be a derided role. They are often excellent parts, as is the case with Steve Trevor. However, it is not unheard of for male actors and their agents to turn down supporting roles in female-centric films because the roles are not “meaty enough,” as was the case with 2015’s Suffragette. That film saw Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson take on supporting roles. Wonder Woman saw Pine sign up for this meaty role as The Movie Boyfriend.
Chris Pine’s history as The Movie Boyfriend.
Wonder Woman isn’t Pine’s first hurrah as The Movie Boyfriend. Though most geek audiences probably know him from his turn as Captain James Tiberius Kirk in the recent Star Trek movies, those of us with broader cinematic tastes met him long before that as Anne Hathaway’s smarmy, yet ultimately goodhearted beau in 2004’s Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement or as Lindsay Lohan’s luck-stealing love interest in 2006’s Just My Luck.
In both cases, Pine seemed more than comfortable with letting a lady have the cinematic spotlight, turning in charming, memorable performances in both cases. (For another example of a Hollywood Chris being comforable enough with his masculinity to star as a love interest in a rom-com, see Chris Evans’ turn as Scarlett Johansson’s requisite hunk in 2007’s pretty great The Nanny Diaries.)
There are some differences between Pine’s choice to appear in rom-coms and his choice to appear as Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman. For one: Well, money. Wonder Woman is a big-budget superhero movie, not a mid-budget romantic comedy. Also: Unlike Princess Diaries 2 or Just My Luck, Pine’s appearance as Steve Trevor comes at a much more established point in the actor’s career… Though, let it not be ignored that Pine gave this response to a fan question about his interest in appearing in Princess Diaries 3 only a few years ago…
That being said, Steve Trevor is a supporting role for an actor who also leads the cast of another big-budget frachise. Pine has other big-budget choices, but he still made this one. That feels unique.
(Side note: one of the reasons why this feels unique is because having a male love interest in a modern superhero film is almost unheard of. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but superhero movies tend to feature straight male protagonists, making the category of “Superhero Film — Male Love Interest” pretty damn small, as of right now… Unless you count non-canonical love interests like Sebastian Stan’s Bucky/The Winter Soldier, who fulfills a role that a love interest would otherwise fulfill in the Captain America series.)
Hollywood needs to get better at superhero love interests.
The cases of both Bucky (non-canonical, but easily inferred for the fan who wants to go there) and Steve Trevor (canonical) highlight just how underdeveloped most female love interests in modern superhero films truly are. While characters like Bucky and Steve Trevor are great characters with their own arcs, the lady love interests of the MCU and DCEU are often forgettable, redundant, and get little to do — despite the fact that they are usually played by some of the best actresses out there.
For the almost exclusively male scriptwriters and directors who get to bring modern superhero films to the big screen, it is apparently difficult to craft a compelling love interest/supporting character who actually gets her own arc. Most male scriptwriters, directors, and executives are either unable or unmotivated to imagine a storyline for love interests outside of their role as actual or potential girlfriend. (There is the occasional exception, like Ant-Man‘s Janet Van Dyne, aka the Wasp, who gets her own arc that is just as vital as her role as potential love interest.)
Love interests in superhero films are often just the character who gets to inspire the hero to be heroic. They are hardly ever the character who is inspired themselves or who is changed to become something heroic alongside the film’s protagonist. Even a great character like Peggy Carter in The First Avenger, one of the best of superhero film’s modern love interests, doesn’t get much of a character arc to call her own until she gets her own MCU short film and then TV series.
In Wonder Woman, Steve gets to act rather than simply react. He also gets his own, fleshed out character arc. He is a cynical American spy who is fighting to stop the war, but who has more or less given up on any idealistic views of heroism or mankind’s capacity to be better. Diana changes him and he gets to be a hero in his own right when he stops the bomb that would have devastated London… at the expense of his own life.
In a movie about heroism, Steve Trevor gets to be a different kind of hero, deepening the themes of the larger story as well as his own character. We need more superhero love interests like him. (But, you know, in female form, too.)
Look, I don’t know how Pine feels about appearing as The Movie Boyfriend in big-budget fare like Wonder Woman or about his past as a rom-com boyfriend, but the fact that he took these roles and performs them so well implies at least a comfort level at being the supporting character to a female protagonist that many actors do not have.
Much like Steve Trevor, Pine isn’t afraid to stand aside and let his leading lady take the spotlight… and that feels worth recognizing. It also feels worth challenging. The MCU and DCEU needs to start giving its female love interests the same kinds of opportunities.
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