It is no secret that there are indeed kinky aspects in Wonder Woman, one of the most famous superheroes in the American comic book history. Look at many obviously fetishistic elements such as her famous lasso of truth, and you will understand why she had been regarded as an unwholesome influence on children since she made her first appearance in October 1940.
Digging into the unconventional personal life of a man who created Wonder Woman and two women surrounding him, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” is an engaging romantic drama which also gives amusing and fascinating insights into the inspiration behind Wonder Woman. While it sometimes falters especially during its second half, the movie mostly works well thanks to a trio of good performances at its center, and the result is interesting enough to watch along with, yes, “Wonder Woman” (2017).
After opening with Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) facing an important interview with the representatives of the Child Study Association of America in 1945, the movie cuts back to when he was a psychology professor teaching at Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges in 1928. As an expert on a behavioral theory called D.I.S.C. (Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance), Marston is particularly interested in developing lie detector along with his wife and co-worker Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall), and they are about to hire one of his female students as their new research assistant.
The student in question is Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), and this young, beautiful woman comes to interest both Marston and Elizabeth more than they expected. At first, they amusedly observe her tricky interaction with male students from the distance, but then they become more fascinated as getting to know more about her. Besides being quite intelligent, Olive is frank and forthright in her unadorned attitude, and Marston and Elizabeth are delighted to learn that Olive’s mother and aunt are in fact renowned figures well known for their feminist activities.
As these three main characters come to spend more time together, a certain complicated mutual feeling is gradually developed among them. Elizabeth correctly sees from the beginning that her husband is smitten with Olive, but then she is surprised to realize later that she is also attracted to Olive, and Olive turns out to have feelings toward both Marston and Elizabeth. Not long after they come to have a breakthrough in their lie detector development, there accordingly comes a moment of truth for all of them, and they soon find themselves happily beginning their very unconventional relationship.
Of course, the rapturous mood among them does not last long as their relationship is regarded as something immoral and perverted by many others. Marston soon gets fired, so Elizabeth has to work as a plain secretary for supporting not only them but also Olive, who agrees to live with them as Elizabeth’s ‘companion’ and subsequently gives birth to Marston’s first child.
While they continue to maintain their necessary façade of normality with more children, Marston struggles to publish his academic books on the DISC theory, but then there comes an odd moment of inspiration for him around 1940. After taking a brief look into a fetish shop owned by Charles Guyette (JJ Felid), he takes Elizabeth and Olive to the shop when Guyette gives his several customers a kinky presentation involved with bondage, and he comes to imagine a female superhero as watching Olive try a fetishistic experiment in front of him and Elizabeth. When he suggests this comic book idea of his to Max Gaines (Oliver Pratt), the publisher of National Periodical Publication (It is DC Comics at present, by the way), Gaines is not that enthusiastic, but Marston pushes his idea as hard as he can, and, as shown from the following exuberant sequence, his superhero figure, renamed as ‘Wonder Woman’ after Gaines’ small suggestion, turns out to be a big hit comparable to Superman and Batman.
However, Wonder Woman soon comes to receive criticism for its apparent sexual undertone, and that is where the screenplay by director Angela Robinson becomes shaky and contrived in terms of storytelling. While the scenes involved with the Child Study Association of America are more or less than obligatory narrative hangers, a dramatic conflict among our three main characters later in the story feels artificial especially during its eventual resolution, and that is why the epilogue part does not feel as emotionally resonant as intended.
Nevertheless, the movie is still entertaining on the whole thanks to the commendable acting of its three main performers. Although his performance is the weakest one in the bunch, Luke Evans maintains his rather neutral character well in his position, and Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote shine whenever their respective characters have to deal with their emotional matters. Thanks to Hall and Heathcote’s strong performance, we can really sense how much Elizabeth and Olive inspire their man’s creation, and we come to agree with Marston when he shows his sincere appreciation to them around the ending of the movie.
Overall, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”, which goes straight to DVD/Blu-ray here in South Korea, handles its intriguing subject well with enough respect and intelligence, and I was alternatively amused and touched by the complex emotional dynamics among its three smart, intelligent main characters. Considering the enormous box office success of “Wonder Woman”, this small but interesting movie deserves more attention, and I guarantee you that you will come to observe Wonder Woman with more understanding and amusement.