Princess Diana does not need anybody to rescue her. The same, however, cannot be said for Wonder Woman's partner in fighting crime. In fact, despite being a competent spy, Steve Trevor is Wonder Woman's damsel in distress, successfully flipping the script on the stereotype of women always filling that role. After years of watching male superheroes save helpless women from certain death, the scenes of Wonder Woman saving Steve on the battlefield are long overdue, and a pretty huge deal.
As the first major female-led superhero movie to come out of Hollywood in over a decade, Wonder Woman establishes early on that, Steve, while perhaps not the classic damsel in distress, is absolutely not the star in this movie. Before Steve and Diana even meet, she is saving his life, first by fishing him out of the water and later, again, by defending him to her mother. From the very beginning of their relationship, Diana is in a position of power. When she saves Steve from drowning, the audience knows that their bond will not be that of the typical superhero romance. And this continues to be the case as the rest of the movie unfolds, with Wonder Woman saving Steve time and time again, be it in London or on the battlefield.
Some spoilers ahead! The scene in which Wonder Woman saves Steve in a London alley is particularly significant. After undergoing a makeover, per Steve's request, Diana finds herself cornered with Steve by German spies. Steve immediately moves in front of Diana, to shield her, only for her to reach out and deflect a bullet headed straight for his abdomen. He then stands by helplessly as she disables the men around them. Steve acts the way we expect male heroes to act — protect the women and children first — only to find out he's really the damsel in distress. It's almost as if up until this point, Steve has believed himself to be the hero of this movie, and now he is finally realizing the truth. He isn't the hero of this story — Wonder Woman is.
Steve's identity as the weaker character needing to be saved is reinforced over and over again over the course of the movie, but he does get to show off some skills of his own. Unlike most of the women in superhero films, he gets to fight alongside Diana in battle and even saves her life a few times. He isn't the average damsel in distress, because he doesn't come from a position of expecting to be saved. When he meets Wonder Woman, he's already a spy for the British. He has the confidence of a man who has eluded death more than once. Even after Diana saves his life, he considers himself her superior, giving her orders in battle and trying to get her to follow his lead. (He continuously fails, but it's fun to watch him try.)
Steve's sense of self is what makes his role as a damsel in distress, even an untraditional one, so necessary. To see a man, confident in battle and capable in defending himself, embrace being rescued by a strong woman is powerful. It sends a message that accepting help, even if it goes against gender roles, is not a sign of weakness, and that plenty of times, women are stronger than their male peers. This idea is something that other superhero franchises continue to struggle with. Take Iron Man 2, for example. The film introduces Black Widow as a sexy secretary that Tony Stark immediately wants to paint as a damsel in distress. He is resentful when it is revealed that she was sent to spy on him (and, in some ways, protect him), and the fact that she is infinitely more powerful than him in a battle (minus the suits) is never acknowledged. Hell, even in Batman v Superman, the idea that Lois Lane is a better journalist than Clark Kent is glossed over, and she's painted as a typical, weak love interest.
Superhero movies have a nasty tendency of enforcing the idea that men are the ones who do the saving. Hopefully, Wonder Woman will teach audiences that men sometimes need to be rescued, and that's not just OK — it's normal, and something to embrace.