In a decade that’s seen the comic book movie genre blossom into a mainstream staple, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a timely examination of the genre’s roots. The film is about Professor William Marston (Luke Evens), who creates Wonder Woman based on his polyamorous relationship with wife- Elizabeth Holloway (Rebecca Hall) and young psychology student- Olive Bryne (Bella Heathcote).
On the surface, the film is a staunch defence of comics with the framed storyline of Marston appearing before the Child Study Association of America, to answer for frequent images of bondage and violence. However, the film’s true focus is in the central relationship between William, Elizabeth and Olive. Writer/Director Angela Robinson subverts the male gaze by rooting the titillating aspects of the relationship in the characters’ emotions. One scene where Olive has to punish a sorority sister by smacking her with a wooden block is a darting tennis match of stolen glances between Elizabeth and Olive, cementing their mutual attraction for one another.
Rebecca Hall steals the limelight in a Katherine Hepburn inspired performance, dominating the screen with a sharp wit and occasionally chilly demeanour. However, Hall’s best moments are silent instances of introspection, whether it’s realising her place in the relationship or reflecting on how long she’s known William.
The screenplay is brimming with ideas and is given free reign to discuss them in a frank and open manner. The film posits Wonder Woman as a heightened fantasy of a world where women are allowed to be powerful and dominant. But it also respects their femininity and desire to earn a living in a humble role (via Wonder Woman’s alter ego- Diana and her job as a secretary).
In essence, Wonder Woman is a reconciliation of its female characters who represent two ways of being a woman in contemporary society. In this way, the film speaks to the power of comic books as a medium to educate, but also to illustrate a better world then ours.