Every so often I go into a film not particularly expecting to be caught up in it. Not for any lack of its own part, but perhaps the trailers haven't really connected, or the news around it hadn't yet gotten my attention. So I settled into the screening of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women expecting for a largely dry 110-minute stroll through 1930s and early 40s watching the creation of the character and comic of Wonder Woman.
It's definitely about Wonder Woman's creation; however, writer/director Angela Robinson has elevated it into something so very much more — a wonderful, genuine, complex film about relationships that is as relevant to people today as it would have been from the early 20th century onward.
Dr. William Moulton Marston (played by The Hobbit's Bard the Bowman, Luke Evans) is a Harvard psychologist who was inspired to create the iconic heroine of Wonder Woman by his two muses and loves: Elizabeth Marston (The BFG's Rebecca Hall) and Olive Byrne (The Neon Demon's Bella Heathcote). The film opens in the late 1920s with the Marstons teaching classes in the university's nascent psychology department, all the while doing their own research into both the creation of the lie detector and the development of his DISC theory of behavioral patterns.
Olive is one of William's most aspiring and driven students and soon becomes their teaching assistant. It's not long before the three begin to have feelings among them. They must to learn to struggle through their own doubts as well as a social climate that considered non-normative relationships to be depraved. There's a brief moments of happiness before their lack of discretion eventually causes them to lose their positions from the university and they have to find new sources of income, and Marston is inspired by Olive and Elizabeth to begin writing a new type of superhero character, Suprema the Wonder Woman. After some convincing at All-American Publications, Wonder Woman was born.
This film pivots out of following the easy path of just going through the motions of reciting a story that fans of comic history (and Wonder Woman history in particular) already know and towards exploring the relationships and motivations behind it. Robinson elevates the three leads from casual outlines into fully developed people. Their writing and delivery presents them as having their own lives before and after the events we're shown on screen. When one of the characters moves out for a time, their life moves forward — they don't just exit scene and wait until their next cue to step back in.
I can't help but think of the themes of this film as somewhat of an antithesis to E. L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey. James could learn volumes about what it is to write characters struggling with coming to terms with their sexuality and particular drives. Where Fifty Shades's Anastasia has little actual depth to herself as a person, both of the women around Marston are strong and independent, yet vulnerable in a realistic way. Neither need Dr. Marston, but they all choose to be together.
There are prolific liberties taken with particular details (Marson had a primary artist partner which isn't mentioned in the film in the least), and around timelines; however, what is shown helps frame those vignette moments that help form the inspiration of Wonder Woman, her secret identity as Diana, and the evolution as Steve Trevor. Echoes of everything from tender moments between them to aspects of daily life (like Olive's silver bracelets) all find their way into the mythos of the comic.
I am resigned to the fact that this film won't be seen by nearly enough people, but I wish that weren't the case. I still have hope that it will be discovered and viral word of mouth will drive ticket sales. In the end, I do have faith that when it comes time for awards season, neither Robinson nor her cast are likely to walk away empty-handed.
It's a history story, but foremost it's a relationship story, and one you should definitely experience.