PSA: Avoid ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ At All Costs

By Ed O'Hare

I never take comfort in speaking ill of comics-related properties, and this past weekend’s box office results may deem this article unnecessary. However, I feel compelled to let readers know they should steer clear of “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” a period drama that was released wide this past weekend that purports to tell the story of the Wonder Woman’s creator and his unusual romantic life.

William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) has long been considered to be one of the most curious characters in comic book history. Marston was an accomplished psychologist who invented the lie detector and wrote at length on the nature of emotional behavior. He also had an unconventional marriage with wife and colleague Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and an open relationship with a former student named Olive (Bella Heathcote). While serving as an educational advisor to National Periodical Publications (who published Superman, Batman and dozens of other heroes who later formed the DC Universe), Marston pitched the idea of a female superhero that eventually became the Amazon warrior who stormed movie theaters last spring.

Now that the history lesson’s done, let’s cut to the chase: This movie is poorly conceived and boring to boot. On paper this may seem like a good idea for a film, and I would highly encourage readers to learn more about Marston. Unfortunately, the truth is stretched too far in this case and creates a narrative that fails to be engaging. Most of this film is spent building up this “forbidden” love story, which is intriguing but takes too long to play out. The way Wonder Woman imagery is woven into the love scenes also seems too convenient and overly indulgent. The middle portion to the film almost serves as a softcore Wonder Woman porn. Also, for a movie that tries to emphasize an “unconventional” relationship, many of the story beats (especially the ending) feel trite and clichéd.

The film’s portrayal of Wonder Woman’s publishing history is annoyingly inaccurate. While it is true that many of Marston’s stories were filled with images of bondage and submission, the book was not nearly as controversial at the time. There are several depictions of mass comic book burnings that did not really start in America until 1948, a full year after Marston’s death. Also, Wonder Woman was not the main focus of this movement but rather comics in general as a medium, after a spurious book written by child psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham. The title cards at the end of the film attempt to paint DC in a bad light for trying to distance themselves from Marston, but do this by referencing a brief storyline in the comics that happened more than 20 years after his passing.

The end credits also add insult to injury by showing pictures of the real William, Elizabeth, and Olive and it is clear that they look nothing like the actors portraying them. Rebecca Hall turns in a solid, nuanced performance. Bella Heathcote’s Olive seems flippant and indecisive at times, but I feel that is more a failing of the writing than her acting. Luke Evans is very wooden, but his rugged good looks almost make it easy to believe that two women would be willing to share a bedroom with him for life. Oddly enough, Oliver Platt (who is a bright spot in the film as publisher M.C. Gaines) does bear a resemblance to the real Marston, and makes one wonder how different this movie would have been with him in the lead.

This film plays fast and loose with the truth, dolls up real-life people, and sensationalizes a quirky story to try and cash in on the superhero craze. Thankfully it seems audiences wholeheartedly rejected this attempt and they only drew in people like myself who feel the need to see anything tangentially related to DC Superheroes. I highly encourage all who read this not to follow my example and save up for Justice League next month. 

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