“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” (2017)
Running Time: 108 minutes
Written & Directed by: Angela Robinson
Featuring: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, JJ Feild, Oliver Platt and Connie Britton
William Moulton Marston: “She is beautiful, guileless, kind, and pure of heart. You are brilliant, ferocious, hilarious, and a grade A bitch. Together, you are the perfect woman.”
There have been few films produced that explore the origins of superhero characters, I hope this will be an anomaly that will be rectified over the next few decades as there will be a natural curiosity about the authors of these characters that are being made into movies, making billions at the box office while being introduced to an entirely new kind of audience. There is a pantheon of superhero authors whose names are known by even non comic book readers, but the creator of ‘Wonder Woman’, William Moulton Marston is probably one of the lessor known, but more fascinating people to have ever been involved in comics and their creation. As it turns out the character of ‘Wonder Woman’ is a touchstone for people as well as a new reinvigorated character for Warner Brothers (and DC comics) after the runaway success of the Patty Jenkins movie, “Wonder Woman” (2017) that heralded some pretty big firsts, the highest grossing movie directed by a woman, the first comic book movie led by a woman and directed by a woman as well as becoming the leading DC character now, surely ahead of the iconic ‘Superman’ and ‘Batman’ who both are at their lowest ebb in over thirty years. It seems that a film that addresses the origins of this character would not only be interesting but enlightening to a new generation, as well as highlighting how original and interesting comics can be, as well as the subversive nature that they are able to project which in turn means that their coded content is made for a knowing section of the population, but at the same time being attractive to all.
There is so much to love about “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” (2017), it is a period piece about people who were all about their minds as well as breaking through scientific as well as social boundaries and barriers, without the need for consequence as well as actually attempting to understand the human mind. They wanted to be a part of making the world a very real and better place with an emphasis on women’s rights, including all that entails. The very idea of someone’s life work being summed up in the pages of a comic may seem like a reach but that is exactly what is distilled in this film that also has a meta narrative, as it has been written and directed by a woman with a distinctly feminie point of view which I am sure the main character’s would have liked as it was one of their main treaties.
“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”, written and directed by Angela Robinson, is someone who has quite a bit of genre experience which suits the somewhat biopic nature of this film, as it delves into a few genres of its own with very different visual styles associated with each one. In fact this film covers quite a lot of narrative territory as well as boasting a very stringent political, social and artistic point of view that is as relevant today as it was when this movie was set. This is a very well thought out and constructed film with minimal lag or waste of running time, it has a job to do, points to hit and it does this extremely well especially considering some of the constraints that the entire production was under. Robinson, who has never directed anything with the nuance required for this movie to work really does wonders with the narrative as well as the plot, not ignoring the importance of key visual cues that are a must for what is a special story, as well as being set in an unusual time in the US. What could have been a run of the mill movie about the creation of one of the greatest and iconic comic book characters of all time is not reductive at all, it grabs the reigns of imagination from the start, never letting them go until the final credits roll, with some photographs of the original people involved in this most original of non fictional origin stories, this is if you will, the story behind the origin story of ‘Wonder Woman’.
The film is told in flashbacks set during a 1945 testimony that William Moulton Marston gives to representatives of the Child Study Association of America. In the year 1928, William and his wife Elizabeth teach and work on their research at Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges. One day, William hires one of his students, Olive Byrne (daughter of Ethel Byrne and niece of Margaret Sanger – two famous suffragists and feminists of the 20th century) as a research assistant. Olive aids in the Marstons’ work in inventing the lie detector and conducting research on William’s DISC theory on human interactions, and the three soon grow close. One after another tests by the lie detector reveal that they have fallen in love with one another, and all three of them begin to engage in a polyamorous relationship.
“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” is very much a story about three very individual as well as special people who come together to from an unorthodox (in terms of societal norms) relationship that meant they would treat each other as equals as well as learning from each other in almost every way possible. In portraying that the film required three very unique as well as talented and believable actors, luckily they were able to cast Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote who all play very different real life people, but do so with commitment and not an ounce of irony, they are believable from the beginning with a wide variety of emotions on display as well as plot points that must be seen to be real or the idea of this movie will fail completely. Luke Evans plays the titular role of Professor Marston who is at the beginning of the movie an over sexed educator, but by the end is a true visionary and an example of what a man can be, embracing differences as well as truly believing in the women around him without any kind of predatory response that is seen in so many other texts. The other main characters, it has to be said the inspirations for the character of ‘Wonder Woman’ are played by the experienced Rebecca Halland the relative newcomer Bella Heathcote who it has to be said are both excellent and who outshine Evans as actors as well as within the characters they play, which is one of the main points of the film, without giving to much away in terms of plot. Within the plot and narrative there really is not much room for any other main characters but the cast is rounded out by the great Oliver Platt and Connie Britton who although only in minor roles really do shine as two very important players in the story of the publishing and acceptance as well as the ultimate castration of the comic that was ‘Wonder Woman’.
Whilst the movie “Wonder Woman” may have seemed liked good timing with all that has gone on in the past year or so, with the call for more equality in all aspects of life, this new biopic seems almost more on point especially as it looks closely at gender roles within relationship as well as in the workplace, adding to that there is also the elements of gender studies as well as roles within education and all that goes with that. This is a movie that looks at a polyamorous relationships with true authenticity and shows it working as well as any other relationship, it takes us into the three principles lives showing us their children who are well adjusted as well as the struggles any couple would have with money, familial relationships as well as how others interact with the three socially. What is remarkable is the way in which Marston was able to distil his own ideas as well as the way he viewed his partners as well as women in general to create a vessel for these ideas to be reproduced and disseminated to the general public without most people realising what they were seeing, an extension of sorts of the suffragettes brought to life with Amazons in their own world fighting in the so called ‘world of men’ without the need for men to ‘save’ them, going against the grain of the time period. To say that Marston was ahead of his and his cohort’s time is an understatement, but to say that he may have realised that with the creation of ‘Wonder Woman’ he might be able to illustrate some real truths through stories with her set in the real world. This movie is not only a tribute to him but to his partners as well as his family, I think it is a great companion piece to the latest “Wonder Woman” movie providing context to her own creation.
The way in which this story is told has a nice touch as well, the plot is told in a flashback, from the point of view of Marston himself which opens up the movie to the male gaze, something that is important as the majority of readers of the comics would have been boys and/or men. The other side is that whilst the narrative is through the male gaze it is filtered through a female director so the view of women as sexual objects is present but so is the agency that these women had with him and each other. We see the roles that all three people played with each other as well as the outside world, including behind closed doors in regards to their explorations of their own sexuality which in terms of the visual style relates directly to the creation of ‘Wonder Woman’ as are the myriad visual keys that will let viewers into the influences that inform much that becomes the most feminie, as well as one of the most famous iconic female heroes.
If you want to watch a compelling period drama, comedy, love story as well as a version of the creation of one of the most popular superheroes then this is for you. It delves into many places that are still taboo but does so with a high level of respect as well as some fiction which is par for the course for Hollywood biopics. I recommend this highly it will stay with you long after the end credits roll.