Superhero movies nowadays have become so commonplace that audiences actually complain when the most recent DC or Marvel blockbusters slows down to produce a character’s origin story (which is one reason the latest Spider-Man reboot skipped the entire radioactive spider-bite concept and went straight into the action). But when it comes to Wonder Woman, how the mighty Diana Prince sprung into existence is every bit as intriguing as her wildest journey — and I’m not talking about her Greek god-parents or Amazon upbringing either, but the way the character was built by a Harvard psychology professor named William Moulton Marston.
Conceived as a feminist role model for young audiences; wore red-white-and-blue fetish gear, added with wrist cuffs; and equipped with a lasso of truth that combined Marston’s own invention (he’s the brain behind the lie-detector test) with one of his favorite guilty pleasures (bondage, or so we’re made to believe), Wonder Woman was not simply the poster girl of Marston’s personal agenda, but also the “love child” of a polyamorous relationship the forward-thinking intellectual maintained with his spouse (also a psychologist) and his graceful young teaching assistant (also their lover).
That’s the incredibly rich backstory writer-director Angela Robinson mines in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women movie a rare glimpse into a functional three-way domestic relationship, the likes of which audiences rarely ever witness on screen (where the ménage à trois is typically described as a source of competition and conflict). But juicy as all this ought to be, Robinson’s tweedy, sepia-hued approach is totally at odds with this alternately lurid and illuminating source material. As the portrait of a man (and his “wonder women”) so devoted to the pursuit of truth, this is probably the phoniest movie you’ll see all year, marred by clumsy direction, over-obvious acting and a wooden script that skews what was so radical about the thruple’s arrangement into something tame and downright tiresome.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women movie takes place in the early 1940s, at an era when propaganda was entirely acceptable in American media, and comics were viewed with scorn and suspicion by many, as described in David Hadju’s horrific 2008 novel “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare And How It Changed America.” As religious and community leaders criticized comics, it was not rare for concerned parents, educators and teens to gather around the offending pulp and torch them in public bonfires — the way a church group might destroy pornography nowadays.
Obviously, time has vindicated the comicbook medium, and Robinson excitedly exploits the subsequent enlightenment to place the controversial threesome as pioneers of a sort — which, certainly, they were, even though that doesn’t necessarily annul the concerns of the conservative forces who are against them. Marston was barely the first or last Harvard professor to entice one of his coeds, but that doesn’t make it any less creepy to witness him glance at the young Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote, gorgeous, but apparently incapable of conveying what her character is thinking) when she wanders into his laboratory.
Meanwhile, Marston is played by Luke Evans, who is the closest thing the movies have to a living, breathing Tom of Finland cartoon — and the hunky Gaston of last spring’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” movie. With his broad shoulders, chisel chest and square jaw, the actor in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women movie is also coincidentally the farthest thing from a Harvard academic that one can think of. Handsome as he is, it’s a clever twist that Olive (who’s the daughter of birth control advocate Ethel Byrne and niece of radical feminist Margaret Sanger) appears more interested in his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall, better than the film deserves), a Radcliffe professor whose own achievements are subverted by the sexism of her time.
William and Elizabeth are free enough in their own marriage: “I don’t experience sexual jealousy,” she tells her husband. “I’m your wife, not your jailer.” That’s all fine in theory, but once the flirtation begins, she can’t entirely dismiss her emotions. Yet, it’s fascinating — if not even quite convincing — to see these two brilliant people face the challenge of trying to reorganize their lives around Olive’s arrival.
Robinson tries to shake the foundations of their three-way dynamic as gracefully as possible, to the extent that what turns them on seems curiously Disneyfied: For instance, William recruited Olive in early tests of his lie detector, woozily submitting to its elaborate series of S&M-style straps and restraints. Later, Olive lets the Marstons eavesdrop on a sorority spanking ritual that’s as stilted and weird as a Tijuana bible (those illicit erotic comics William shortly finds himself collecting, and whose fetishistic content obviously filter into his early Wonder Woman scripts).
If done right, these sequences ought to fuse with sexual tension, but instead they feel downright silly — which is the issue with virtually any kink when seen from the outside: So often they are dumb, and the challenge facing any moviemaker is to take audiences into the fantasy space of the characters, instead of leaving us squirming on the sidelines.
By the time William have Olive dragged to a local lingerie dealer, the film has lapsed into some sort of full-blown delirium, treating the shop’s backroom as a type of magic portal where Wonder Woman’s outfit is first made, dramatically backlit to look like a scene from Patty Jenkins’ summer hit — probably the most egregious abuse of the “eureka moment” cliché in any latest biopic. It takes a special talent to take a true story and render it in such a way that virtually every detail rings false.
But don’t let the fact that “Professor Marston” is so heavy-handedly executed, telegraphing its every point through on-the-nose dialogue and the sort of broad pantomime which silent movies once relied on, detract from the revelations it brings. Such directorial silliness doesn’t necessarily invalidate the importance of its subject, and for all the debates that have driven this summer over the merits of Wonder Woman — as a feminist icon, as pop entertainment, as a landmark motion picture — her fans really need to know how the character began in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women movie. After all, to tell the truth, Robinson so unconvincingly reminds us, is what she represents.
Watch Wonder Woman full HD movie online here: http://freemv.online/watch/wonder-woman-79