Purporting to be a biopic of the unconventional Dr. William Moulton Marston, professor of psychology at Radcliffe, inventor of the lie detector, polygamous husband, afficionado of bondage and creator of Wonder Woman, this movie would seem to have all its bases loaded for box office success Add to this the photogenic quality of the cast - Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote - stunners who don’t age a minute during a 20 year time span - and you can only scratch your head at how seriously this movie loses its mark.
The first problem is a confusing script that doesn’t clarify the time frame of the ongoing investigation of Professor Marston’s comic book and its suitability for young readers. It appears to be simultaneous with his professorial career but we find out later that it only began after he was fired from that position. The second is our incredulity at how the professor, his wife and their considerably younger lover, three very intelligent people, ever imagined that they would fit seamlessly into a conventional 40’s suburban family community. After their involvement with sado-masochistic bondage is discovered by a shocked neighbor, they become personae non grata and the threesome dissolves for “the good of the children” with two mothers and one father. How the children react to their parents’ open self-indulgence never makes it to the screen but we have witnessed the three adults in the family bed at a time when such behavior was not considered normal so presumably there was some fallout for the younger generation. It’s also never clear how an unemployed professor and a wife working as a secretary are supporting all of them prior to Wonder Woman’s success Knowing what we do about how little the creators of other comics earned, it’s still not clear what kept them going.
What begins as a look at a serious academic, his brilliant wife and an intuitive student whose mother was a leading suffragist and Margaret Sanger’s sister, intermittently turns into a Hollywood production with a pop vocal score reminiscent of a Bobby Darin movie. The bondage scenes are more embarrassing than erotic as is the attempt to justify Wonder Woman’s scanty costume , frequent entanglements with a rope and talented handcuffs as symbols of power for young American girls. The cast is compromised by the silliness of too much of this and alternatively, the ludicrous grandiosity of what Wonder Woman is meant to represent. We are left with a portrait of a charismatic man who finagled two women into a lifelong relationship that served him well and outlasted him for a long time after his death. But given the temper of today’s times, where is the authorial cynicism concerning the imbalance of power when a professor convinces his student to have sex with him and his wife? And where is the obvious question about how much his “philosophy” conveniently allowed the manipulation of a girl who had been raised by Catholic nuns and a wife reduced to sitting on a window-sill at her husband’s lectures?
The story of the professor is a fascinating one but given the fact that he was a psychologist, the film’s subject and audience merit at least a modicum of skepticism concerning his motivation and rationalization of submission to bondage. Though Wonder Woman eventually morphed into a fighter for truth and justice, she seems to have begun as a controlling man’s sexual fantasies come true.
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