Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is not a bad film. Coming off the heels of the wildly successful comic book adaptation from this summer, writer/director Angela Robinson shines the light on the backstory for how the classic character came to be. Even though they’re completely separate films, this reminded me of a similar situation in 2006. After Superman Returns was released that summer, the film Hollywoodland, which centered on the death of Superman actor George Reeves, came out that following fall. While there are parts that I liked as I watched this, Professor Marston falls into some of the same trappings that you would normally see in a traditional biopic.
Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall play Professor William Marston and Elizabeth Marston, a husband and wife team who work together. Since Professor Marston teaches psychology, he takes notice of a college student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) and tells Elizabeth he wants to study her. Olive eventually becomes Professor Marston’s assistant. Professor Marston is also trying to prove the DISC Theory that he’s been researching that focuses on dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance. The three of them form a bond, and after realizing they all have feelings for each other, Olive becomes their mistress and moves in with them, with both Elizabeth and Olive having William’s children. From the DISC Theory, to how the three co-habited with one another, to finally how William sees the best in both Elizabeth and Olive, this paves the way for his biggest breakthrough yet: Wonder Woman.
The acting across the board, especially from Evans, Hall, and Heathcote, was generally good. No one here gave a bad performance or stood out like a sore thumb. This is another solid performance from Evans after his scene-stealing turn in the Beauty and the Beast remake, and Heathcote makes more of an impression here then she did earlier this year in Fifty Shades Darker. Relationship dynamics are a key theme here. The dynamic between Evans and Hall is great, and the film re-emphasizes Elizabeth is more dominant and controlling than William. Once Olive enters the scene, she quickly asserts herself as the more innocent of the group. The way that they play off from one another is extremely effective. The visual look that Robinson and her DP, Bryce Fortner, is distinctive. In particular, during happier times, it’s more colorful and when it’s not, it’s bluer. The best-looking shot of the film probably has to be when we see Olive in what looks like the inspiration for the Wonder Woman outfit.
The film is certainly funnier then what I was expecting, and there’s some playful energy that the film exhibits as well. The best part of the film is when the advisory board is asking William questions about Wonder Woman. Everything they ask about from the pages, we see is based on some part of their life, like a mirror image of sorts. In addition, during a montage sequence, the juxtaposition of the pages of the comics to the inspirations they were from is great.
Since this is a biopic about their life, it follows the same old song and dance that previous biopics hold. If you know the formula, you know what’s coming. Like other biopics, there’s a feeling that at times, they condense parts of their life to make it a more mainstream narrative. The music by Tom Howe tended to be overly dramatic at times. Even though Evans is good in the film, his American accent is off-putting and distracting at times. As for the creation of Wonder Woman herself, while the film is framed around William’s meeting with the advisory board, they don’t start to explore why he created it until the end of the second act/beginning of the third act. Lastly, and this might be a pet peeve, even though the timeline is spread throughout a couple decades, none of the actors seem to age.
Overall, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a serviceable biopic. It is better then what I expected going into the film. While it’s formulaic, the film features good performances, and the dynamic between the three leads is surprisingly good. If you like Wonder Woman and want to see where she came from, go check this out. This is a fine film to watch this fall. It’s one of the better biopics to come out recently.