The comic-book origin story has become de rigeur in the hills of Hollywood in the last decade, but less common is the story of how these lycra-clad heroes materialised on the page in the first place. Though it is easy to roll an eye at the, to put it charitably, serendipitous arrival of two Wonder Woman films this year, Mr Marston and the Wonder Women earns its stripes as a fascinating story, and not just a vanilla appendage to Patty Jenkins’ excellent, more conventional superhero story earlier this year. This is a film which almost wholly proves the old aphorism true; the truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

The temptation to make this film all about the titular Mr. Marston must have been compelling. He may have invented Diana of Themiscyra as a comic-book property, but was also a respectable Professor at Harvard and a pioneer of DISC Theory. Oh, and he helped to invent the Systolic Lie Detector Test. Yet, the narrative is made all the more compelling with the inclusion of his wife Elizabeth Marston and their mutual beau Olive Byrne. Indeed, though he receives top billing in the title, William Moulton Marston often plays second fiddle to the women in his life.

As a parallel to the driving themes which underpin Wonder Woman herself, this is duality perfect. Even in this socially conservative and sexually repressed period, Elizabeth and Olive drive the film. From the moment we are introduced to Elizabeth, she pops with sarcasm and humour. Within minutes she has described beauty as an “Albatross” and sworn copiously. It is frustrating that it is still pertinent to praise individual films for showcasing strong female characters, as they should be abundant across cinema. But, this was a genuinely refreshing turn by Rebecca Hall; one full of verve and vim. Excellent too is Luke Evans as Mr. Marston himself. Flitting from brooding intensity to fizzing enthusiasm, Evans crafts a character who acts as the perfect foil to Hall, and vice versa. This triumvirate is completed ably by Bella Heathcote, who plays Olive with poignancy and a hint of naiveté.

Repeatedly, this is a film which pushes frontiers. From sexual liberation to gender politics, it clearly has a voice that desires to be heard. The extent to which these subjects are thoroughly debated varies, as the narrative seems unsure about which questions to answer. Much like its main characters, the film cascades into its own polyamorous relationship: falling in love with its various thematic threads and following them instinctively. However, this occasionally leaves the rest hanging. Even more jarringly, there are moments when the film skates too closely to melodrama. The premise of a love triangle set against a disapproving world comes close to cliché, despite the fact this is a thoroughly unconventional story. Nevertheless, these moments are few and far between.

Indeed, there are defining moments in this film which are framed with intimacy and, dare I say, wonder. The moment when we first ‘see’ Wonder Woman in the flesh is epiphanic. The unmistakable silhouette runs to gold and a warm red hue as the camera dissects the contours of its muse. Much like the moment when the three protagonists give in to their urges for the first time, DoP Bryce Fortner impulsively knows what distances his characters need and the narrative craves.

Mr Marston is emotionally uneven in patches and is prone to glamourise and simplify the social dimensions of its story. But, it is also an immensely powerful and fascinating film which makes you profoundly respect the foremost female superhero in the world. Gal Gadot et al may have broken the mould created by studio executives over the last twenty years, but Wonder Woman was iconoclastic from the moment William Moulton Marston’s mind compelled him to put his pen to paper.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
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