Wonder Woman has had one hell of a cinematic year. Not only did the most famous female superhero in the world get her own solo outing and a major role in Justice League, but now Professor Marston and the Wonder Women delves into the true story of how the character came to be. And this historical drama manages to depict a more interesting narrative than either of the superhero films the character has been involved in this year.
In the late 1920s Professor William Marston and his wife Elizabeth were teachers of psychology at Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges who developed an interest in their student and teaching assistant, Olive Byrne. The three eventually formed a polyamorous relationship, and together came to explore kinks such as submission and bondage as Professor Marston developed his own theories on human behaviour. Frustrated by society’s rejection of his lifestyle and romantic interests, Marston created a comic book filled with sexual and fetishist images in an attempt to promote his theories in popular culture.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women explores topics that we’re unlikely to see in a major superhero film anytime soon, and it’s rare to see a positive depiction of a polyamorous relationship in cinema at all. It’s truly fascinating to see how interests that are still viewed as taboo even today were instrumental in creating such an iconic figure, with writer/director Angela Robinson often presenting panels from original Wonder Woman comics to highlight how explicit Marston could be in exploring sexuality in his work. The three leads are also to be commended for making the relationship seem not only believable but completely normal. Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall have such natural chemistry together that it’s easy to accept them as a couple together since childhood. As the third party in this relationship Bella Heathcote’s character ranges from timid and demur to confident and in control, and Heathcote never struggles to show both Olive’s vulnerability and strength.
Robinson’s script is intelligent and often extremely witty, particularly the dialogue cuttingly delivered by Ferguson, but at times I found her direction overbearing. The first love scene between the three leads in particular is laughably explicit, as they ransack a college theatre department for costumes and props under the blaring sounds of “Feeling Good”. An excess of soft golden lighting accompanies other major turning points in the plot, attempting to turn them into something mythic rather than letting the extraordinary nature of the true story speak for itself. It’s an admittedly nit-picky criticism of an overall strong film but I couldn’t help feeling like Robinson didn’t trust her audience to recognise moments from Marston’s life and how they influenced Wonder Woman’s creation, so felt the need to make any references overt.
Overall Professor Marston and the Wonder Women remains an intriguing story with impeccable performances, and after watching it I can’t help but feel a new level of appreciation for what Wonder Woman stands for. I also don’t think I’ll ever look at the Lasso of Truth the same way ever again.
3 and a half stars.