Film review: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is the best superhero origin story yet
The story of the man who created DC’s feminist icon and the women who inspired him – both in and out of bed – is a beautiful love story that’s enriched by the exceptional central performances
2017 is fast becoming the year of Wonder Woman. DC’s feminist icon finally arrived on the big screen, wowing audiences in her stand-alone feature before stealing the limelight from fellow superheroes Batman and Superman in Justice League . The origins of the character’s creation, as depicted in director Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, prove every bit as fascinating.
Wonder Woman debuted in 1941, created by William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), a psychology professor at Harvard University. Together with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), Marston’s research into human courtship rituals led to his Disc Theory (Dominance, Inducement, Seduction, Compliance), as well as the invention of the lie detector.
The Marstons were assisted by a student, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), who soon became their lover, and the trio lived together in a secret polyamorous relationship, that bore four children from both women, until Marston’s death in 1947.
While unconventional to even today’s most liberal-minded, the Marstons’ private life was infinitely more scandalous back in the early 1940s. Struggling to get published or make an income, Marston channelled his frustrations and yearnings into a creation that embodied feminism and justice, but also contained strong undertones of violence, torture and sadomasochism.
Of particular relevance in today’s Hollywood climate, Robinson promotes the argument of separating art from the artist, while simultaneously retracing numerous elements from Wonder Woman’s controversial debut back to Marston’s own experiences and insecurities.
The central relationship is always depicted respectfully, as daring rather than depraved, while their love scenes are sensual rather than overtly salacious.
Ultimately, the film succeeds because of its exceptional central performances, in particular Rebecca Hall, whose intelligent, progressive and dominant Elizabeth deserves serious awards attention, as does Donna Maloney’s costume design.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is not only a beautiful love story, a lesson in non-judgmental acceptance and psychological exploration of the creative process. It is also the best superhero origin story yet to be put on film.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women opens on November 23
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