By Brad Haynes
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
★★1/2 out of ★★★★
Wonder Woman is one of the biggest superheroes of the year, thanks greatly to the incredible success of the summer blockbuster of the same name starring Gal Gadot. But it’s doubtful that many know the story of how Wonder Woman was created.
And it is quite a story. It’s too bad then that the new movie on her creation, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, is not nearly as impressive as the story itself.
While working as a psychology professor at Radcliffe, Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) searches, along with the help of his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), for a student assistant. He finds what appears to be the perfect candidate in Olive (Bella Heathcoate). And not only do Marston and his wife approve of her as an assistant, they both also ultimately come to take the student on as a lover.
Working outside of the cultural norms of the day (the story begins in the late 20s), this threesome not only live together as a family, but end up with a brood of children as well born by each woman.
As the actual inventor of the polygraph, Marston should have been set financially, but the film not-so-subtly points out that he failed to patent the device, thus losing out on all rights to the property.
Instead, it would be in a superhero Marston devised, based on traits of both of the women in his life, and woven around his DISC theory (dominance, inducement, submission and compliance) which was integral to the courses he taught. He also came up with some costuming ideas for his wonder woman (who we find out in a funny scene involving his publisher played by Oliver Platte was originally to be named Suprema the Wonder Woman) after a visit along with the women to an underground sex shop. That’s the place you have to thank for the impetus of the Wonder Woman costumes.
But the controversial origins would soon become revealed, leading Marston to an interrogation by the decidedly judgmental Josette Frank (Connie Britton) of the of the Child Study Association of America, who claimed the Wonder Woman comics were full of “sex perversion” including bondage and discipline, spankings and the subtext of homosexuality.
This appearance by Marston in front of Frank in 1945 opens the film and acts as a rather clunky springboard for the film’s flashbacks.
In fact, even with the rather sensationalistic aspects of the film, some of it tends to drag. And that can be blamed primarily on the structure of the film and the somewhat heavy-handed approach director and screenwriter Angela Robinson takes to the subject. It is, however, no reflection on the actors themselves.
As the three leads, Evans (who you may remember as Gaston from the live-action Beauty and the Beast), Hall and Heathcoate are all excellent, with Hall the true standout. With little more than an eyebrow raise, her thoughts and feelings are apparent.
As the film concludes, slides of the real-life characters are seen. And in a way, it’s kind of a shame. The real Marston and his women looked very…well…ordinary. Sad to say, it was somewhat disheartening.
But it’s an amazing story, and one that if approached with an open mind, will help you see the character of Wonder Woman in a whole new light.
The Good: Evans, Hall and Heathcoate are all extremely appealing, placing you in their corner from the opening moments of the film. It’s also an incredibly extraordinary story of which few are probably aware.
The Bad: For such a progressive story, it’s all told in an extremely old-fashioned way by director/screenwriter Robinson.
The Final Word: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women sheds light on a fascinating story at the perfect time, with interest in the Wonder Woman franchise at an all-time high.
Starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcoate, Connie Britton. Directed by Angela Robinson.
R for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and language.