Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
8/10: Angela Robinson and her cast have turned a fascinating but problematic true story into a faithful and entertaining movie.
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Luke Evans plays Wonder Woman's creator in a story that's stranger than any comic book tale.


Unless you've been living on an isolated island, you're probably aware that Wonder Woman was the smash hit superhero movie of the summer.

Few people, however, know the peculiar and fascinating story of how the character was created by William Moulton Marston, a libertine psychology professor who also invented an early lie-detector prototype.

Angela Robinson's new movie, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells that story, with Luke Evans starring as the academic-turned-comic book writer.

The film is set in 1947, beginning with Marston's battles with censors over his comic book hero, but is told in flashbacks to Marston teaching at Harvard University in the late 1920s. His wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) joins her husband for classes at its sister institution Radcliffe College - but is denied the title of Professor due to her gender.

In line with the spirit of the age, Marston applies his psychological teachings to his life, and in particular, his theories on human emotions and the effect dominance and submission have on them.

Aware that her husband has a wandering eye as well as a restless brain, Elizabeth attempts to scupper his romantic intentions towards a precocious student named Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote).

Instead of nipping any relationship in the bud though, she and Olive fall for each other - with the trio entering into a scandalous ménage à trois that threatens their studies and careers.

The subject matter could be problematic in 2017 due to its depiction of a powerful man's relationship with a younger student, but Robinson deals with this deftly.

Yet, the Marstons' and Olive's boundary-pushing, bondage-filled relationship does mean this is not a film for younger fans of the comic book.

What the movie does do, is capture the pioneering spirit that defined Marston's personal and professional life, and drove him to create a feminist superhero - Wonder Woman - who was often depicted dominating men.

Evans is excellent as Marston - just about staying the right side of the line between sexual liberation and sleaze, but his performance would be nothing without his two co-stars.

Elizabeth is a formidable woman, but Hall manages to capture the fragility she feels at being treated like a second-class citizen and having to follow her husband's lead - even when they're agreed on their destination.

Heathcote plays Olive with enough charisma for her to be more than a naive student falling for her teachers.

One problem with the film is that it doesn't quite get to the heart of its subject matter. The story of Marston's creation of Wonder Woman and his long battle with censorship is slightly skated over in favour of the trio's intriguing, but less groundbreaking romantic back story.

Ultimately though, the story of Wonder Woman's creator is every bit as captivating as the character itself, if not more so.

As such, this is a must watch for older comic book movie fans and a diverting tale for those who think Themyscira is an unpleasant ailment rather than Wonder Woman's paradise home.

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