ReelBob: ‘Professor Marston & the Wonder Women’ ★★★½
By Bob Bloom
William Moulton Marston is known for two creations — an early prototype of the lie detector and Wonder Woman.
In the year that Wonder Woman smashes onto the big screen in a big-budget superhero film, it is apropos that a movie explaining Marston’s inspiration for his Amazonian character also is released.
In “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women,” writer-director Angela Robinson traces how Marston’s unconventional personal life and views about women led to the creation of his iconic comic-book figure.
We first meet Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), in 1928 at Radcliffe where Marston is teaching psychology.
He and Elizabeth are partners in human behavior research.
They soon choose one of Marston’s students, Olivia Byrne (Bella Heathcote), to serve as an intern and help in their experiments.
The movie overflows with sexual tension. Both Marstons are attracted to Byrne, who soon reciprocates.
The trio eventually fall into an unusual lifestyle that is definitely outside the norms of society.
But the movie is not some kinky examination of their alternative living and sexual arrangements.
Rather, it’s a slowly building meditation of how Marston views the women in his life and — on a larger canvas — how women in society are restrained and treated by convention.
Yes, Robinson does use soft-focus camera shots and lighting to examine the erotic nature of the trio.
Her purpose, though, is not to titillate, but rather to make you question your feelings about the limitations of sexuality.
At times, the movie makes you squirm and feel uncomfortable, as if you are invading the privacy of these three people who have chosen a singular path.
Robinson creates a couple of sequences that foreshadow who Wonder Woman will be, as she slowly percolates in Marston’s mind.
The film’s framing device is Marston defending the bondage, spankings, violence, submissive behavior and domination of women throughout the Wonder Woman stories to a morality committee.
In the end, as we can see, society’s thought police were victorious, and those elements were toned down in Wonder Woman.
Marston wanted to use the comic-book format as a platform to educate and advance his theories. For a few years, he was successful. But like all visionaries, he was lassoed down to Earth by those “protectors” with blinders that narrow their vision.
“Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” is dominated by strong performances by Hall and Heathcote. Evans also showcases one of his more notable turns in front of the camera.
Robinson’s feature is one of those films that will make you view Wonder Woman differently and muse how she would be presented today if Marston’s vision had been fully realized.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
PROFESSOR MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN
3½ stars out of 4
(R), strong sexual content, language, smoking