For a superhero that’s been around for over seventy-five years, the origins of Wonder Woman are anything but conventional. So posits Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, an intriguing, but rough biopic that follows the relationships of her creator, William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his wife Elizabeth (the exquisite Rebecca Hall) and their girlfriend, Olive (Bella Heathcote). With Wonder Woman having something of a moment right now, with a summer box office smash and the upcoming Justice League, the most famous female superhero of all time is merely background fodder here, with the focus being on the relationship dynamics of the three main characters amidst the framing device of deposition on the decency of the early Wonder Woman comics, with their reliance on bondage themes, nods to lesbianism, and hints at sadomasochism.
Evans is amiably roguish as Marston, and the film starts with him and his wife’s time as psychology professors at Radcliffe, an all-women’s college in Boston. Hall’s Elizabeth is a bulldozing feminist who establishes her territory from her first moments on screen, and especially with the introduction of Olive, the Marstons’ new TA, with whom both become smitten. From the reluctant first fumblings, through to the establishment of their polyamorous dynamic, the movie presents and explores some interesting themes, even if it’s a little simple-minded in some cases (their first tryst is set to the un-subtle chords of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”), and a little heavy-handed in others (every aspect of Wonder Woman’s inspiration is hit with a heavy hammer – headband, invisible plane, lasso, etc.).
There are some beautiful shots peppered throughout, with the underground bondage scene used on the poster being an obvious highlight. Evans, most notable for being the bad guy in one of the Fast and Furious movies, imbues Marston with an interesting dichotomy, aggressively pushing for relationship evolution while maintaining a submissive personality. Heathcote’s coquettish charm is balanced nicely with Olive’s intelligence and idealism, though she doesn’t feel like she ages and mature as the others do. Hall was my favorite here, fierce, yet vulnerable, and constantly struggling against her ideals of sexuality and freedom and society’s.
I didn’t quite buy some of the story, as I’m sure liberties were taken. And while it’s common knowledge that the Marston’s helped create what became the polygraph test, it did feel like it was constantly shoehorned in, rather than develop organically. The movie itself is high-minded and interesting for the ideas it presents, but undermines that with how they are presented.
My Grade – C+