Lust, love, and lie-detectors in this surprising true story celebrating female superheroes both on and off the pages of comic books.
Wonder Woman is hot property once again at the moment, with the recent entry into the DC Extended Universe, starring Gal Gadot as the eponymous heroine, being hailed by both critics and fans alike. This is undoubtedly a great time to capitalise on the public’s piqued interest in the Amazonian warrior, but Professor Marston & the Wonder Women will surprise many, particularly those unaware of the erotic origins of the female hero.
Starring Luke Evans as the titular Professor, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote as the so-called “Wonder Women”, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women is a retelling of the polyamorous relationship which led to the creation of a superhero sensation. Dipping in and out of a meeting between Marston and Josette Frank, head of the Child Study Association of America (played straight by the always wonderful Connie Britton), the film explores of beginnings of Marston’s unconventional relationship with the two ladies he loves, and how their feminist ideals led him to create Wonder Woman.
Spending less time on Wonder Woman herself, and more time with this “throuple”, once you can get past the unconventionality of it, the film actually ends up being surprisingly lovely. Whilst it’s erotic beginnings are deliberately explored – and are perhaps unnecessary titillating in places – there is undeniable love in the relationship as well. More than an origin story about the origins of a superhero, it is a story about love in all its surprising and wonderful forms. It is a challenging watch in places as well, and sometimes it is difficult to forget that the period in which it is set would’ve been even more judgemental about the relationship. However, the film is keen to keep love at the core, and the admiration Professor Marston has for the ladies in his life is constantly respectable.
Rebecca Hall is on magnificent form as always, as Elizabeth Marston, and as is often the case, her performance far surpasses the quality of the film itself. She’s a hugely underrated actress, and whilst its high profile subject matter will undoubtedly draw an audience, it does also seem like the sort of film (and performance) which could slip under the radar. Luke Evans is also on fine form, deliberately a more understated performance however as the storyline demands the women to be front and centre. Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne nails the pure fragility of the character, but is slightly less believable as the third component in the relationship, particularly as it takes a more sadomasochistic turn.
Whilst it ultimately leads to the unexpected confessions of love, the subplot about the invention of the lie detector does feel a little extraneous, but given that Marston decided to forgo patenting it, this is perhaps deliberately left as a side-note. The invention of the Wonder Woman character was ultimately his passion, transposing the passion for his loves and the admiration of women into the pages of a comic book icon.
More than anything, and perhaps the reason why this film truly shines, is that it is a story about – and a tribute to – inspirational, strong and powerful women. The qualities of both his wife and his mistress ultimately combine to create the character of Wonder Women, and that sense of female power and dominance is incredibly empowering.
The comic book movie audience might find themselves pleasantly surprised by this film, but it is interesting to see an altogether very different origin story, and for that reason, this film is absolutely worth the time.