Should You See ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’?

Matthew Loffhagen
Annapurna Pictures
(Photo: Annapurna Pictures)

It’s no coincidence that Professor Marston and the Wonder Women has been released this year.

Sure, it makes sense – Wonder Woman managed to land with unexpected success, proving that Warner Bros is still capable of making a decent comic book superhero movie so long as they drop all the bitter joyless angst of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Naturally, a biopic about the three creators of Diana of Themyscira has come along at just the right time.

There’s more to this than an attempt to piggyback on the success of another movie, though. This movie had to be in development long before Wonder Woman proved to be a hit, and at the start of this year nobody could have imagined that DC would actually do something right for once (thanks, Patty Jenkins!).

So why make this movie now, in our specific current political climate? It’s not hard to see why modern moviemakers are expecting audiences to love a film about empowered women and a respectful, progressive man.

The movie tells the story of Dr William Marston, the guy who generally gets all the credit for creating Wonder Woman, as he negotiates a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth, and their shared extramarital mistress Olive Byrne. The film paints their relationship in a positive light, arguing for three-way relationships in a way that’s pretty uncommon in modern cinema.

Wonder Women
Source: Annapurna Pictures

This is a piece of feminist cinema; that can’t really be escaped. Cue the first test that you should perform before deciding whether this movie will be for you: are you okay with seeing a film that promotes female sexual liberation? If not, this might be a difficult watch for you.

The good news is that if you’re not into feminism or equality, but you are a fan of watching movies about bondage or three-ways, you’ll probably still find something to enjoy, albeit with slightly more embarrassment if asked to explain what you liked about it to your grandmother after viewing.

That in and of itself is another question worth asking, though: are you okay with watching a movie that has an R-rating for sexual content? By all accounts, this film doesn’t get too overly pornographic, but it is a little kinky.

The big scene that’s been shown off in the posters involves lead characters Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne indulging in some sexy bondage play, so if you’re not comfortable watching something like that being dramatized, you might find this hard to sit through. That’s totally okay, you’re entitled to not want to watch anything too overtly sexy, and you shouldn’t feel bad if that’s your reason for sitting this out.

Next, let’s look at Professor Marston himself. Has his portrayal of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast ruined him for you forever? He did such a good job of acting like an entitled dudebro that it might be feel a bit icky for some audiences to see him living the high life with both a wife and a mistress.

The problem with interpreting the history of Wonder Woman’s creation is that while some see the Marstons’ polyamorous relationship at its core as a triumph of non-traditional love, others instead view it as toxic patriarchy at its most disgusting. Having Gaston play a guy with two lovers doesn’t make this feel any less problematic.

Luke Evans in Wonder Women
Source: Annapurna Pictures

This is especially challenging considering that for some reason, the movie is framed from Marston’s perspective. This feels like an odd choice, considering that the female characters have an arguably more interesting dynamic, and especially considering that in real life, Olive and Elizabeth stayed in a committed relationship long after William’s death.

Ending the story while the titular Professor Marston is still alive seems to miss the point, as does putting his name on the title before the Wonder Women. Nobody’s here to see Luke Evans being smug about getting to have sex with two women at once.

So, finally, if you’re not put off by any of that stuff, there’s just one more question to ask to determine whether or not you should see Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.

Do you like Wonder Woman and want to know more about her creation?

Sure, this biopic isn’t completely accurate, and its core message may be both too risqué for some audiences, and oddly focused for those who enjoy a good feminist message. This isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch of the imaginations.

If you’ve asked yourself all these questions and you’re still eager to see the film, though, go ahead. It might just be exactly what you’re looking for.

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