Hot on the heels on Patty Jenkins’ box office smashing Wonder Woman comes the biopic of Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston and the two women who inspired him to create the comic book hero.
The central story follows Marston and his wife’s unconventional relationship with Olive Byrne. Byrne started as a teaching assistant for the Marstons and became the third person in their marriage. The film explores the themes that became key in the Wonder Woman comics – empowered women, truth and the trio’s penchant for a bit of bondage.
Rebecca Hall is incredibly watchable as Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Luke Evans (who was very generously cast, just wait for the pictures at the end) is a bit dull, Bella Heathcote looks distractingly like Heather Graham and does a lot of sighing. It left me feeling a bit annoyed that a story about a man who championed women’s rights and was surrounded by interesting and intelligent women would portray them in such a one dimensional way. Elizabeth is a ‘grade A bitch’ and Olive is pure of heart and beautiful. It flattens their characters.
Oliver Pratt, who plays Max Gaines, an American comic book pioneer, is grossly underused and the most dynamic presence in the whole production, and the usually wonderful Connie Britton adds to the lazy female character roster as the schoolmarmish Director of the Child Study Association of America.
Tonally, it’s off. There are moments in the film that seem a bit like a Movies4Men film that you would feel a bit awkward about watching with your nan. What they are trying to make titillating comes off as a bit creepy as Evans spends a lot of time lurking in doorways waiting to be invited to join in with his wife and mistress. Furthermore, the film hits you on the head with metaphors and then completely spells them out for you – the hospital bed constraints are like bondage ropes, and this is spelt out with a bondage montage. There’s not enough trust in the audience.
After reading Jill Lepore’s excellent The Secret History of Wonder Woman book book and watching Gal Gadot as the Amazonian Princess I perhaps had set the bar too high for the film. But I still feel that it is a reductive telling for the story of an accomplished psychologist who wanted to change the world and educate through his comics, and the brilliant women he loved.
If it’s toss up is between the cinema trip and the book, I would definitely recommend the book, which is multi faceted, fascinating and about far more than just these people’s untraditional relationship. But maybe it’s just not salacious enough to sell tickets.
Professor Marston And The Wonder Women is in cinemas now.