8 out of 10
Luke Evans as Dr. William Moulton Marston
Directed by Angela Robinson
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Review:
Timely in many ways, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women doesn’t only celebrate the 75th anniversary of the iconic character, but the many influences and events that informed her creation. Wonder Woman didn’t exist in a vacuum; she came about due to the lives and the academics of both Dr. William Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). Both seem to complete each other, filling in the empty spaces in each other’s minds and hearts. For William, his life’s work is to bring about an understanding of the human emotional scale. His DISC Theory (DISC stands for Domination, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance) supposes that if only humanity would understand the way that other humans react to the way control is given or taken from them, their knowledge of themselves could literally end all conflict. As a veteran of war, for Dr. Marston, this was a personal journey, and it would not be possible without Elizabeth.
But to put these theories to the test, they need a subject, and they find one in Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), who is instrumental in the Marstons’ invention of the lie detector. But both William and Elizabeth find a connection with Olive, a love that has no boundaries or judgments, except for the ones that society places upon them. Through their ongoing relationship, the three fall in love, but it costs them everything, until one day Dr. William Marston decides to apply what he has learned into a children’s comic book. That comic book becomes the icon we all know and celebrate.
This is a complicated film, exploring polyamory in a non-judgmental way, and many casual filmgoers will not be along for the ride. While the film is never explicit, it does ask us for empathy and sensitivity as we see walls fall between William, Elizabeth, and Olive, and we watch the love grow with these three different, headstrong people. Elizabeth, especially, is reluctant to let her guard down; she has built towards something substantial all her life, and refuses to allow her sex to hold her back in more patriarchal times. Rebecca Hall is easily the stand-out performance in the film (although Luke Evans and Bella Heathcote are both terrific); her Elizabeth is brilliant, ambitious, but also very aware of how society views her. Later, when the three begin exploring their personal and sexual boundaries, she is reluctant to travel down roads that no one else will understand.
This is an adult piece of art. Those who aren’t prepared for the maturity and compassion that the film examines this relationship with may reject the message wholeheartedly. But like Brokeback Mountain and other films of that nature before it, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women asks us to examine it with empathy and openness.
There are signifiers all over to the Wonder Woman character we know and love – everything from the magic lasso of truth, her bodice uniform, even her invisible plane have a place in this history, and Marston injects everything he’s learned and the experiences he’s had in his life to this work, and doesn’t even attempt to hide the fact that he’s putting all his ideas and theories into the comic. When M. C. Gaines (Oliver Platt) publishes his comic, he is prepared to reap the whirlwind of public controversy, but the Marstons and Byrne are not prepared for the response, which tests their relationship.
Again, director Angela Robinson approaches the material with grace and a quiet, contemplative eye that allows the audience to walk around in these boots for a while. One can close themselves off to these genuine emotions that these characters are feeling, or they can leave themselves open to the journey, and find some growth in themselves as well. This isn’t a casual film to sit down to for most people, but those willing to experience it may themselves come to an understanding. This is a love that transcends emotional barriers and societal expectations, and it isn’t for everyone. For those fascinated in how Wonder Woman came to be, this film is a detailed historical exploration, full of great performances and rich with emotion and heart. The origins of Wonder Woman are very much a part of an understanding of the character, and why the messages of equality and love in the comic are so important. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is challenging for some, but worth the effort.