Wonder Woman, the warrior with the indestructible bracelets and slightly kinky magic lasso, burst into comics in 1941. As it happens, there was more kink to her story than suggested by that golden lasso she uses to force her captives to tell the truth and looks like something from a bondage emporium. That leads to an inspiration of making Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. If nothing else, the movie is another reminder that once upon a time, people had sexual appetites and relationships as complex as those of today.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women movie tells the story of the man who created Wonder Woman and the women who inspired him both in and out of bed. The movie gleams and has all the smooth surfaces and persuasive detail of a typical period picture with the fedoras, the rides, the Katharine Hepburn trousers. All that luster proves to be a glossy seductive way into something more satisfyingly complicated. That’s something else the movies don’t always like to admit. Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) is that man creating Wonder Women. He finds out just how special those items in a dusty, mysterious shop with sexy specialty items could be when he pops into a store where a man calling himself the G-string King (J.J. Feild) opens up a world of consensual power play and pleasure. At that point, life has already become interesting for Marston. The writer-director Angela Robinson lays out just how knotty it all is with wit, sympathy and economy. Spanning decades, the story takes flight in 1928 with Marston teaching young lovelies at Radcliffe. He has answers questions along with a theory he calls DISC which stands for for dominance, inducement, submission and compliance. The theory sounds terribly complex and slightly ridiculous.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women movie director, Angela Robinson takes that theory and uses it as a clever if somewhat schematic framing device as she spins her story. There are moments of domination, interludes of inducement, submission and compliance mixed in with a sweet, soft-focus romance that initially involves Marston and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall), and soon includes a third person Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). As a student, Olive cracks open the Marstons’ marriage, but instead of destroying it, she helps it grow into a shared liberating adventure that settles into something cozily domestic.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women movie story of the world’s most famous female superhero has been told elsewhere, and Robinson draws on archival sources for her telling and takes some liberties with the historical record shuffling events around to dovetail with the polymorphous possibilities she’s most interested in. There are scenes that fill in some details but also interrupt the fluid narrative flow. These sequences read as a stand-in for the 1950s anti-comic-book crusade of Dr. Fredric Wertham.
He condemned Wonder Woman as a cruel, ‘phallic’ woman.
Wertham saw cruelty in the Wonder Woman world, but Robinson sees deep enduring love in its back story as well as freedom including from rigid gender roles. Her version of the idealistic professor and his two wonder women, and the complex geometry that defined their relationship has been a touch fuzzier than the actual story. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women movie is a pleasurable fantasy, as well as a gentle appealingly Utopian vision of a world in which men and women can slip from their traditional binds into new excitingly freeing configurations.