The foundation of the world’s most popular female superhero is given a real life origin story, in ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’. Angela Robinson writes and directs this melodrama that details the unconventional life of Dr. William Marston (Luke Evans), the Harvard psychologist and inventor who helped invent the modern lie detector test and created Wonder Woman in 1941. Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a psychologist and inventor in her own right, and Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), a former student who became an academic. This relationship was key to the creation of Wonder Woman, as Elizabeth and Olive’s feminist ideals were ingrained in the character from her creation. Marston died of skin cancer in 1947, but Elizabeth and Olive remained a couple and raised their and Marston’s children together. The film focuses on how Marston dealt with the controversy surrounding Wonder Woman’s booming creation. The film is rated R for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and adult language.
Origin stories are all the craze with superhero films anymore. In just this year alone, ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ is the second helping of its lasso whipping heroine, but it takes an unorthodox approach in the roots of its story when compared to other establishing beginnings. For one, this is a story about Wonder Woman, but never does it feature Diana Prince in a single scene, nor does it include an overcooked antagonist who hunts her down to rid her of her powers. No, this beginning centers around the real life formation for one of D.C’s finest properties at the mind of William Marston, and the biggest battle within its confines is the threat of empowering feminism that has got the world in an uproar for the stances it takes in bridging the gaps of inequality. Because of such, Robinson’s film is inspiring, revealing, and even uncomfortable for the necessary ways it depicts shielded love and desire during a time when anything against the ordinary felt like a slap in the face of conventionalism. It spun a needle of truth and self-reflection within the pages of its comic book, educating us the audience on the traits and physical features of this animated character that are so much more than just cosmetic.
What I dug about the way this story is presented is in its teaching style of method that puts us front-and-center in the desks, with the events playing out before us. As a teacher at a college, Marston educates his students on the importance of feminism, but this is nothing more than table dressing for the real students in this lesson plan; us the audience. The film’s focus hinders on the four traits of Marston’s DISC Theory. This stands for Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance, four angles of feminist silence that overrun family ideals during the 40’s, and it’s in those individual letters that each get a chapter in the film’s screenplay where we piece together the reasons in logic for Wonder Woman’s uproar in repertoire one step at a time. This establishes that her greatest adversary never took place on pages, but instead in the real world where we were doomed more than the citizens that Diana saves each issue. At the heart of it all, is the secrecy between these three protagonists who are living the very same story that is visually narrated to us throughout, presenting us firm examples of the four letters that hammer home the visibility in their truths.
The visual spectrum is sound, radiating a distinctive look in production design that gently immersed me into seventy years prior. My favorite examples of time pieces in films are the ones that use style and atmosphere to communicate its jarring differences from our own era, and this one is certainly keen on that perspective. The authentic touch in lighting mostly plays around with soft tones, but does so in a way that doesn’t give them that fake look that sappy melodramas are known for. Everything is kept within reason of distinctive vision, and the film’s clean cut design grant us a perspective of clean air before any of it is compromised with the ugliness that’s right around the corner. The musical score by composer Tom Howe can sometimes play at deafening levels as it overtakes a scene, but his mostly piano infused sounds are moving in the way they audibly translate the emotional response of each scene granted. Interestingly enough, Howe also worked on this year’s ‘Wonder Woman’, so he feels like the right man for the job in the before and after in the evolution of a cultural icon.
What few problems that I did have with the film reside soundly on the film’s running time (103 minutes) that present some glaring holes in narrative approach that hinder the consistency of its pacing. For one, there’s simply too many different eras in the lives of this trio that is being depicted for such a brief amount of time on-screen given to them. Because of such, some aspects in subplots have to be dissected with the painful knife of the editing room. The transitional scenes between years lacks the kind of defining weight that make them believable from scene to scene. Some of them have musical montages to try to feed some exposition into bridging the gaps, but the jumps that lack these informative stances leave us abandoned at random points during the film where you feel like more story deserves to be told. My only other problem resides in the provocative sting of its punch. It’s not that I felt the film gave me too much sexual fuel, but rather not enough. For a film that deals with the scandalous, there’s little drama in the overall subject matter that payoff soundly for moments of dramatic pull. I feel like the film deserved to play up the tension in getting caught slightly more, otherwise it was just biding its time for the inevitable that we know is coming.
Those problems would normally be enough to sour a film to the lower grades, but thankfully our more-than capable trio of actors each give a stirring performance that opens our eyes to two promising careers. Before I get to them, Rebecca Hall is the very pulse of the film’s heart, portraying Elizabeth as a brave freedom fighter years before the term ‘Feminist’ was properly defined. Hall is currently one of my favorite actresses going, and it’s clear to see from the immense versatility in her fiery range to turn on the tears whenever necessary that she is a beneficial firework to any film who continues to stay lit. As to the two actors who really surprised me here; Luke Evans and Bella Heathcote are superb. I’ve only seen Heathcote once before, but this is the kind of role that I can never un-see her warm compassionate touch ever again. Bella’s internal battle as Olive is one that is emoted candidly in her facial depth, paying tribute to a generation of actresses who can say so much with just a look. Evans was born to play Marston, channeling an energetic surge for love and respect that grant him a philosopher’s touch. It’s easy to see Evans become this teach because throughout the screenplay he is teaching us one valuable lesson after another, leaving little doubt the kind of gifts he can bestow if given the proper direction to bring it out of him. If three is company and four is a crowd, I’ll stick with this threesome and the dynamic performances that give the characters life.
THE VERDICT – ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ definitely suffers from some of the glaring problems in structure from turgid time constraints, but it’s a film that deserves to be seen by every woman regardless of superhero feelings for its inspiring stance on feminist retribution. This is one origin story that tells the true origins, and gives way to the lasso of truths that Wonder Woman is actually fighting for. Despite never seeing Diana Prince once, I feel like the trio of Evans, Hall, and Heathcote have taught me more about her than any big budget epic ever could, proving behind every good man is two great women who give him inspiration.