Professor Marston and the Wonder Women review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Released the same year as the first movie adaptation of Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the true story behind the creation of the iconic female superhero. And it’s not exactly a PG-13 affair. It’s a tale of psychology, bondage, revolution, and sexual threesomes. From this fascination would come about one of DC Comics’ most prolific superheroes, saddled alongside Superman and Batman as one of the best. Strange, isn’t it?
William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) are married and work as teachers of the 1920s at Harvard and Radcliffe. Their research includes developing lie detectors and determining DISC theory. When they’re not hitting the books, however, they’re very sexual. When they’re not being sexual or hitting the books, they’re scrutinizing social conventions in their snarky tones only professors could muster. This attitude turns out to have an odd effect on their volunteering research subject of the student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). William and Elizabeth are shocked to discover she is the neglected daughter of Ethel Byrne, famed feminist at those times.
Tensions rise quickly, however, as Elizabeth suspects from the very beginning that Olive wants her husband. She’s right but Olive also wants Elizabeth. Those all parties eventually agree they love each other, a three-way relationship wasn’t exactly in for the early part of the 20th century. And so their romance remains closed behind doors of experiments, some scientific and other just for sex. And it gets pretty darn kinky with their dabbling in submission, bondage, and roleplay.
The deeper the trio go into exploring their sexuality, the more fascinated and frustrated they become. They eventually stroll down avenues of fetish art and bondage costumes, inspiring William’s research and making Elizabeth question how far she’s willing to go down this hole. There’s real passion in what they’re doing but also a desperation for a society that doesn’t accept them they’re pushed back for their secrets. Low on cash, William decides to penetrate pop culture for his ideas on DISC theory by taking everything he has learned and applying it to a comic book. After some convincing of publisher Max Gaines (Oliver Platt), Wonder Woman was born.
From there you can see how the controversy starts up, foreshadowed in the opening of people gathering to burn comic books. Wonder Woman is accused of being far too sexual, angering parents, conservatives, and the publishers who tell William to tone down the bondage. He triples it instead. There’s only so much censorship a man can take when forced up against the wall.
The acting trio of Evans, Hall, and Heathcote are fantastic in these roles. Evans brings that brilliance of a bright mind more blinded by discoveries than his own emotions, relationships, or even health. Hall has a great scathing personality the way she finds herself confident and feisty in matters she’s not altogether sure about how to process, questioning Evans at every turn to make sure he’s not just doing all this for sexual arousal. And Heathcote embodies a great fragility when it comes to matters of sex and love that have confused and made her less confident, making her boldness in honesty towards the end a very powerful climax.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is like that dirty bit of history a high school student finds and can’t wait to share. The film certainly amps up that giddiness with the material as well as the romantic tension and sexual discovery. There’s great energy present, especially with the smash-cut of Wonder Woman’s most suggestive moments and the three-way acts going on behind closed doors. Thankfully, the film is just more than eroticism and comic books, telling a grander story of acceptance in both identity and sexuality, making the film both wild and powerful.