Why is Chris Pine in the 'Wonder Woman' sequel?
Updated: Jun 23, 2019
In our current pop culture landscape, overstuffed with superheroes and classic action reboots, it's hard to imagine a white blockbuster that doesn't involve a hot Chris. While Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and Chris Pratt have all nestled into the billion-dollar realm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chris Pine has been captaining (no pun intended) the J.J. Abrams-helmed Star Trek film franchise for almost a decade now with critical and financial success. And yet, by the inevitability of Hollywood’s handsome, white dude formula, he found his way into the DC Extended Universe alongside the first female-led superhero film in over a decade, Wonder Woman.
In the film, released in 2017, Pine plays Steve Trevor, an American pilot caught up in World War I who curiously crashes his plane in Themyscira, meets Diana Prince A.K.A Wonder Woman and travels back with her to Europe to stop the release of a deadly gas by an evil German scientist. Steve, along with a straggly group of male ancillaries, provides some necessary comic relief, as well as a human lens for the audience. He’s also Wonder Woman's love interest.
But despite the fact that Steve dies heroically in the third act of the film by detonating a bomber, he somehow shows up in the film’s upcoming sequel, Wonder Woman 1984. Because what’s a big-budget action film without a charismatic, male lead? Presumably, a disaster.
On June 13, the film’s director Patty Jenkins posted a photo on Twitter of Pine standing in a retro-looking mall sporting a chic ‘80s tracksuit with the caption “Welcome to WONDER WOMAN 1984, Steve Trevor! #WW84.” News of Pine’s reemergence sent media outlets and social media users into a frenzy, speculating the ways Steve could return from the dead and why the franchise was in such a hurry to bring him back
We all know that anything is possible in the realm of cinema. The resurrection of comic book characters, whether they be heroes or villains, is a principle of the genre, especially if they’re fan favorites (look to Loki from the Thor movies.) Yet, Pine’s speedy return to the franchise reflects a broader issue of female representation in big-budget filmmaking and the need for a male point-of-view in women’s stories.
According to a study by USC, there were “on average 2.3 male characters for every woman” in 900 top films from 2007 to 2016. Those numbers aren’t surprising. Even high-grossing films that boast “strong” female protagonists like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Divergent and the recent Star Wars installments provide a cushion of supporting male characters. And as result, the majority of the dialogue typically goes to them. Take Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Daisy Ridley comprises a main role, yet women only provide 28% of the film’s dialogue. And in Rogue One, starring Felicity Jones, that number dwindles to 17%. The same goes for The Hunger Games. While the story’s protagonist Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, has the most individual dialogue, male characters do the majority of the speaking.
It’s proven to be a successful formula. Give a woman a lead role in a major blockbuster for the sake of diversity but surround her with a heavy male cast so that the story is female-driven but doesn't center her perspective. Does it pass the Bechdel test? Even better. Remember that diversity is a strategy to appease the eye. Inclusion involves structural change to depict accurate experiences for underrepresented groups. And considering that women make up half of the population, it’s completely plausible that Wonder Woman befriends at least one woman on her mission with Steve even in a male-dominated war zone. Instead, by the second act, the Smurfette principle is employed. And the viewer doesn’t have to fully engage in a female experience if they don’t want to. What does that tell us about the fate of leading women if the most explicitly feminist superhero has to reside in a boys club?
Naturally, when Wonder Woman was released, critics wondered if the film was feminist “enough.” Titanic director James Cameron audaciously condemned the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, calling her an “beauty icon” and “a step backwards” for female protagonists. Fans on social media found his criticism illegitimate, as well as Patty Jenkins who defended her casting. Steve Rose of The Guardian wrote that the film lacked “patriarchy-upending subversion” and criticized the film’s abundance of male characters. Other critics noticed that Chris Pine, despite how well he plays a romantic lead, took up a significant amount of screen time. A.V. Club writer Caroline Seide questioned his overly generous arc compared to those of female love interests in male-led superhero movies, stating that he’s “given plenty of screen time to ensure he feels like a fully fleshed-out character in his own right.”
“Even though Steve never threatens to overshadow Diana, her relationship with him overshadows her relationships with just about every other character—and that’s disheartening.”
Maybe Pine’s return wouldn’t be as contentious if Wonder Woman’s gender representation wasn’t already so imbalanced. We could only see the daily functions of Diana’s all-women Eutopia for so long until Steve lands on the island, inadvertently bringing in an army of bloodthirsty Germans that end up killing Robin Wright. And Wright’s character, General Antiope, an instant favorite and critically acclaimed performance, is only on screen for six-and-a-half minutes. Once Diana begins her mission in London with Steve, we are introduced to a never-ending rolodex of men with the exception of Steve’s female assistant who she interacts with briefly and a nefarious scientist who says very little. As much as Wonder Woman is the hero of her own story, so are the men that work alongside her.
Who knows if Pine will receive less screen time than he’s given in the first film. But Wonder Woman’s second installment, due next fall, holds promise of some change with Insecure star Natasha Rowell and actress Gabriella Wilde joining the cast. It was also announced this month that Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen would be returning in a flashback sequence. Arguably, the biggest development is the addition of Kristen Wiig who is set to play the film’s main antagonist Cheetah. Female villains are always fun when they’re well-written. But the potential image of Wonder Woman going toe-to-toe with another woman before we get to see her befriend one makes me cringe.