Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, B
Rated R, 108 minutes
Who knew that a three-way would inspire one of the most beloved comic book character's of all time? That's the subject of the remarkably subdued and talky yet superbly acted drama "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women," which explores the real-life inspirations behind Marston's immensely popular character, Wonder Woman.
The film examines the unconventional life of Dr. William Moulton Marston ("Fast & Furious 6's" Luke Evans), his creation of Wonder Woman in 1941, his wife Elizabeth ("The Gift's" Rebecca Hall) and their relationship with Olive Byrne ("Fifty Shades Darker's" Bella Heathcote). Through the pen name "Charles Moulton", Marston combined his, Elizabeth's and Olive's feminist ideals to create a superhero character that young girls could look up to.
The slow-moving but affecting "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women," in spite of its title and the character it inspired, is not a superhero or action film: it's a satisfying character study into the feminist ideals that helped shaped the beloved Wonder Woman. As well, the subject matter can be rather tawdry, and many others may go for its titillating aspects , but it downplays those in favor of examining the psychology and unusual nature of the relationships of the three main characters.
Some of it sounds a little tame, though "Professor Marston" does lend itself to some fascination, including the fact that Marston, a psychologist and professor, helped create and develop an early model of the lie detector test, which is given some screen time here. Of course, the real fascination is what lead to the creation of the now super-popular Wonder Woman character; both Elizabeth, played by the always excellent Hall, and Olive, played with low-key appeal by Heathcote, contributed to it, especially the strong-willed Elizabeth, who may or may not have been the brains behind much of Marston's written work.
All three had an unconventional relationship in the day: they lived together for years, and Olive and Elizabeth would continue to live together even after Marston's death, and both women would have and raise children with him as well. Qualities of both women would find their way into Wonder Woman, with Olive's desire to do good and Elizabeth's unwavering strength. On that note, the film wears its feminist badge proudly, and while there's nothing wrong with that, it can occasionally feel repetitive or preachy, especially in its later acts.
One of Marston's mottos, and it's depicted in the film too, is "inducement produces activity in a favorable environment." Not everyone has the unconventional life that Marston had, but if you're so induced, go see "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women" as a tribute to the wonder women in your life.