Ladies and gentlemen, the second best Wonder Woman film of the year.
Fun fact: The man — Dr. William Moulton Marston — who invented the very first Wonder Woman comic in the 1940s is the same person who invented the polygraph test. He was also in a polyamorous relationship with his wife and his assistant. Marston lived an interesting life, to say the least. And exploring this life is what director Angela Robinson sets out to accomplish in her latest film, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.
William Marston (Luke Evans) didn't begin his career thinking he was going to one day be writing comic-books. He started off as a psychologist, teaching about his DiSC theory — which examines behavior traits of dominance, inducement, submission and compliance — at Harvard University.
He works alongside his wife, Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), as the duo are work to create the first functional polygraph test. So far, it has been failure after failure. But when they hire a bright, young assistant named Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) to guide them in their research, they start to find better luck
Better luck that then turns into emotional attachments, which turns into romance, which turns into a whole mess of complications. Long story short, the three all have strong feelings for each other. Instead of trying to work out who should be with who and what the repercussions might be, they decide to simply say screw it and form a three-way marriage.
They’re well aware that society isn’t going to accept this abnormal relationship — and they have to pay the price by losing their jobs and living next to judgmental neighbors. However, not only do they not care, William Marston gets the idea to channel some of these feelings and put them into his greatest invention yet: Diana Prince.
Crafting the Wonder Woman comic book through inspiration of women in his own life, Marston sells his idea to M.C. Gaines (Oliver Platt). Soon Wonder Woman is a hit and goes on to become the most popular female super-hero of all time.
But the criticism doesn’t end there — Marston is scrutinized for including overtly sexual images, as well as questionable themes of bondage and submission, in his work and is at risk of having Wonder Woman taken away from him.
There’s a lot going on in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women and a lot of ground the movie has to cover. While there are some things the film does better than others, it’s able to include a series of well-crafted scenes and powerful moments.
The best thing about the film, hands down, are the performances. Luke Evans is always likable on screen and is able to show his dramatic side in this role as well. Bella Heathcote gives a stand-out performance, having some of the most memorable scenes in the movie, and is bound to get more work after this role.
And then there’s Rebecca Hall, who’s on a whole other level and ends up stealing every scene she’s in. Rebecca Hall has always been a talented actress, and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women finally gives her a role where she can really prove it. She’s snarky yet emotional, hard-as-nails yet suffering. And, in the end, it’s Elizabeth the audience can sympathize with the most — as Hall is nothing short of award worthy in her depiction of her.
Together, the three form an interesting relationship that plays out in a well-direction fashion. Polyamorous marriage isn’t exactly something we as a country have come around too yet, but Robinson decides to hold nothing back. She presents each character as a real person with real feelings — Olive is treated as an actual adult, rather than a naive child — and forms the relationships out of that. The result is a film that doesn’t necessarily tell you how you should feel about their actions, but rather let’s you see them as people.
However, the problem I have with Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is the same problem I had with Battle of the Sexes — this feels like two separate films that have been crammed into one. The first half of the film deals with the invention of the polygraph machine and the three main characters trying to figure out how they feel about each other. The second half deals with their marriage and the invention of Wonder Woman. The two halves never blend together quite as well as they should and, in order to keep a manageable runtime, a lot of the film feels like it’s been edited away. Marston is shown writing the Wonder Woman comic in just one montage, and Oliver Platt’s screen-time comes in at about five minutes.
The other noticeable flaw (despite the fact that the film is all told in flash-back narrative, an overused cliché in the biopic genre that I can no longer stand) is the film’s lack of subtly. There are times when the movie can be subtle and challenge the audience to think a certain way, but there are times when it can also be very in your face and far too noticeable — pay attention to the song during the trio’s first sex scene for an example.
All things considered, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women isn’t quite able to set out everything it wants to achieve and falls short in a couple areas. However, there are also moments when the film can pack a punch — a punch powerful enough to make the film worth seeing.
Watch the trailer for the film here, and let us know if you're going to be seeing it in theaters this weekend in the comments below. And, if you do see it, tell us what you liked better: Patty Jenkin's Wonder Woman or Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.
An origin story of an origin story: 'Professor Marston and the Wonder Women' review7