[Screen It]

"PROFESSOR MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN"
(2017) (Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A professor enters into a unique three-way relationship with his wife and female teaching assistant, all of which not only leads to the development of the lie detector machine, but also the comic books featuring Wonder Woman.
PLOT:
It's 1945 and Dr. William Moulton Marston (LUKE EVANS) is being interrogated by decency censor Josette Frank (CONNIE BRITTON) about the sexual content found in his "Wonder Woman" comic books published by Max Gaines (OLIVER PLATT). As he starts telling his tale about how those comic books and their titular character came to be, the story rewinds to 1928 when he's a professor at Radcliffe Harvard alongside his wife, Elizabeth (REBECCA HALL), who's been turned down once again for her Ph.D. solely due to being a woman.

While she claims not to experience sexual jealousy, Elizabeth can't help but notice William is attracted to one of his students, 22-year-old Olive Byrne (BELLA HEATHCOTE) who he's now brought on as his latest teaching assistant to help with his prototype invention of a lie detector machine.

Despite being engaged to a man, Brant (CHRIS CONROY), closer to her age, Olive not only finds herself attracted to William, but also Elizabeth, and soon that feeling is reciprocated. As they enter into a unique three-way relationship that eventually results in children, they must contend with the eventual discovery of that, as well as their participation in bondage and such, all of which helps lead to the development of the Wonder Woman comic book character and veiled bondage and other sexual content that eventually draws the attention of the likes of Josette and other censors.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
As is the case with all sorts of matters in life, timing is everything when it comes to how release dates affect, to one degree or another, the financial prospects of movies at the box office. Sometimes that involves real-life events that end up being quite similar to the plots of movies currently in or about to arrive in theaters. For others, it's all about how those release dates impact other related films.

Take, for instance, the October release of "Dr. Marston and the Wonder Women." Had the masterminds behind the scenes at DC Comics and their related films not reintroduced the Wonder Woman character at the end of 2016's "Batman V. Superman" and then given her a standalone film this past summer where all involved knocked it out of the park (to the tune of $412 million domestically and $821 million worldwide), there might be little interest in a story about what inspired the creation of the character that had fallen into relative obscurity but is now widely known thanks to all involved who turned Gal Gadot into "The Amazing Amazon."

At the same time, those behind that mega-popular film are probably happy that this new offering didn't beat them into theaters. And that's because while it's an intriguing "behind the scenes" sort of tale featuring faces and facts likely unknown to most viewers as related to the character, some of the salacious material might have turned off more prudish viewers and potentially dampened the box office stampede to view this character and her appeal to young girls.

I'll admit that I knew nothing about the creator of the character, psychologist William Moulton Marston who not only brought her to life, but also created the polygraph or lie detector machine. That likely wouldn't have offended many of today's viewers, but the fact that Marston based the character on a combination of aspects of his wife, Elizabeth and their shared lover, Olive Byrne, and the character escaping from constraints in the comics being based on their own dabbling in sexual bondage just might have.

That very notion isn't lost on writer/director Angela Robinson who starts off the film with a scene of people burning "Wonder Woman" comic books (the type of social protest that continues to this day with NFL paraphernalia, but harkens back to book burning censorship of the past), followed by Marston (Luke Evans) being interrogated in the 1940s by a decency censor (Connie Britton) concerned about the veiled but nonetheless "deviant sexual content" found in the comic books.

The story then rewinds back several decades to when Marston and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) are dabbling in human psychology and the development of said polygraph machine. Their work and personal relationship then segue into something completely different when both end up attracted to his 22-year-old teaching assistant (a good Bella Heathcote) and they enter into a highly unusual romantic/sexual relationship that eventually segues into bondage and other such matters.

While I have no idea how much is factual and how much is artistic interpretation, it's interesting seeing how all of that influenced and inspired his creation and the character's various traits and tools. At the same time, the film explores societal reactions to relationships and related material that fall outside the usual husband and wife norm -- along with the precautions and fears of those involved on how that will affect their lives, both personally (including the effect on involved children) and professionally.

Knowing absolutely nothing about any of that meant I came into the movie completely cold, and for a while, it had me completely intrigued. But as things unfolded over the 108-some minute runtime, I started to lose some interest. Some of that stemmed from the back and forth temporal storytelling (one of my least favorite ways to construct a plot), but also the period appropriate use of lots of cinematic close-ups and fade-out, fade-in scene transitions. And then there was the way the sexual material was presented that sometimes came off as so exploitative that I was surprised to discover a woman was at the helm (not that female directors can't also engage in such behavior, but that's usually a man's game in Hollywood).

Finally, and despite all of that, everything eventually ended up feeling too conventional in terms of the characters, their predicament and how things ultimately played out. It's not enough to derail the offering and I'll give the film a slight recommendation, but what started out surprising me ended up struggling to hold my interest by the time the end credits began to roll. "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 7, 2017 / Posted October 13, 2017


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