Superheroes tend to keep a secret identity in order to protect themselves and those around them, but the creators of the four-color heroes we know and love are usually free from such burdens.
This was not the case with Dr. William Moulton Marston, the co-inventor of the polygraph machine and co-creator of “Wonder Woman,” the groundbreaking heroine who conquered the box office earlier this summer. Writer-director Angela Robinson’s “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” is too under the radar to make a similar splash, but it is nevertheless a fitting companion piece to the aforementioned blockbuster. It’s a by-the-book biopic, but a tasteful and glossy one that neither panders nor exploits.
Luke Evans stars as Dr. Marston, a psychologist teaching and conducting research at Radcliffe College in the 1920s, alongside his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). The Marstons are brilliant, free-thinking, and wholly open-minded people, especially for the time, and so is Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), the student who falls into their orbit. Marston’s attraction to her is instant; Olive and Elizabeth’s feelings for one another are more tentative. Long story short, infatuation gives way to attraction, which leads to a long-term polyamorous relationship.
Their story is told in mostly flashback as Marston is interviewed (or more aptly, interrogated) by a psychologist (Connie Britton) and executives at National Periodicals, the publisher of Wonder Woman, which Marston used to subvert preconceived notions, put forth his pet theories of behavioral psychology, and occasionally tease the bondage, role play, and BDSM with which he, Elizabeth, and Olive experiment.
In short, you may never look at Diana Prince’s golden lasso of truth the same way again. There’s much to unpack when it comes to the Marstons, and Robinson approaches the material with care, intelligence, and humor, as well as just enough sexiness to give the story the kick it requires.
The title is a bit misleading – perhaps intentionally so. Marston is center stage throughout, but his stated desire is to put women at the forefront of society, and it is indeed Elizabeth and Olive who are the story’s driving forces, and it’s Heathcote and Hall who steal the show, with the latter cutting an especially impressive swath through the film. Theirs is a unique and surprisingly subversive origin story.