Finally, an origin story worth repeating.
Wonder Woman is the most well-known female superhero — and one of the most identifiable heroes period — but it still took the character three quarters of a century to reach two milestones. 2017 saw her appear in the first female hero standalone feature film, aptly titled Wonder Woman. And now the world is also getting a tantalizing glimpse at the origin story behind the character’s creation with Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Any concerns about a dry, generic biopic should be abandoned now, though, as the film is a true marvel that manages to be romantic, funny, challenging, and sexy to boot.
Professor William Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), are married psychologists teaching courses at a college while struggling to perfect a device capable of detecting lies. The pair take on a student assistant named Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), but a growing attraction distracts from the work. William likes Olive, Olive likes Elizabeth, and after a little back and forth they realize they all like each other. Infidelity is one thing, but open relationships — especially one including same sex couplings — are well beyond the pale of early 20th century society.
The situation only grows more complicated when pregnancy, job loss, and accusations of ruined reputations enter the frame, but through the ups and downs the threesome discover truths about themselves that in turn feed William’s imagination in unexpected ways. Superhero comics are booming, and he decides to blend his psychological expertise with the best elements of both of his lovers to create something new… you know, for kids.
Writer/director Angela Robinson crafts something wonderful and rare here with an atypical love story for both the past and the present. The romance that blossoms between these three adults is as invigorated with lust as it is with sweetness, but their challenges are legion in a society more accustomed to hiding its “dirty” secrets from view. The creation and origin of Wonder Woman is woven throughout their collective story, and while it occasionally feels a bit forced the effect remains a fascinating glimpse into the early days of a character we clearly didn’t know as well as we thought.
The film is a sumptuous experience pulling viewers into the period and the tale with ease. The love story moves effortlessly with strong performances and a sharp, frequently witty script, and it pairs well with a setting that feels both decades in the past and far too much of today. Fear of those different than us is fuel for the close-minded, and the film shows the struggle faced by too many who are simply trying to live their own lives. Robinson’s tale is ultimately one that tells two origin stories — one is big, unexpected, and more bondage-themed than most of us had realized, and the other is an intimate look at the power of love against odds and “reason” alike. But also, obviously, with bondage.
All three leads do tremendous work in finding a balance between the playfully inquisitive, seriously affected, and utterly arousing. Evans’ affection for both women is evident, but his desire towards crafting something wholly new in the form of Wonder Woman is every bit as convincing. Hall seems at first destined for the path of a woman scorned, but the couple’s intellectual leanings prevent such banal feelings, and instead we watch her open up to her own yearnings both in the bedroom and in the realm of creation. Heathcote, meanwhile, is the fresh young face between the two veterans, and she holds her own with a mix of wide-eyed innocence and real-world smarts.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a beautifully-affecting rarity in many ways, from its content to its themes, and it’s every bit one of this year’s best superhero movies alongside, fittingly, Wonder Woman itself.