Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Movie Poster Image
Thought-provoking comic origin story has lots of sex.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 108 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strongly argues that women can do anything and are just as capable and intelligent as men. Also shows that popular culture -- even comics -- can be a threat and that unconventional families and relationships can suffer from those unwilling to accept them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Without getting into morality questions around the central polyamorous relationship, each individual is a role model in a different way. Bill is forward thinking, intelligent, and driven. He's also loyal to Elizabeth and lets her decide whether they'll engage in the unconventional relationship. Elizabeth is brilliant, educated, and ambitious. Olive is loving, selfless, and kind.

Violence

Bill gets into a fistfight with a neighbor once the neighbor finds out that he, Elizabeth, and Olive are all romantically together. A teen son comes home with a black eye, complaining about a fight he got into at school because of rumors about his parents.

Sex

Several love scenes -- including consensual three-way sex between Elizabeth, Bill, and Olive -- some of which feature partial nudity, mostly quick glimpses of breasts or buttocks. Also scenes of light bondage and domination/submission, including use of a rope, role-playing costumes, blindfolds, etc. Graphic conversations about desire, sex, etc.

Language

Frequent strong language, including more than a dozen uses of "f--k" and "f---ing," said as both an expletive and as a word for sex. Other words include "ass," "s--t," "c--k," "d--k," "crap," and "slut," and "God" and "Jesus" as exclamations.

Consumerism

Original Wonder Woman comics.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol a few times, even though the story is set during Prohibition. Elizabeth and Bill drink out of beakers, where they've hidden liquor, and take Olive to a speakeasy. Various characters smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a mature biographical drama based on the unconventional family life of the creator of the Wonder Woman comic. Psychologist Dr. Bill Marston (Luke Evans) is portrayed as having had a three-way polyamorous relationship with his wife and a younger woman. The movie is occasionally sexually explicit (including partial nudity -- breasts, buttocks) and features the three adults engaging in light bondage/domination and submission. There's also frequent strong language (mostly "f--k" and "f---ing") and mature themes related to family structure, fluid sexuality, psychological theories, and the hidden messages in popular comics.

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What's the story?

Inspired by true events, PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN is the little-known story of the creator of the original Wonder Woman comic and his polyamorous relationship with his wife and another woman. The framing story begins in 1945, with Dr. William "Bill" Marston (Luke Evans) forced to defend the Wonder Woman comics in front of a powerful decency board. During Marston's testimony, the story flashes back to 1928: Marston is a psychology professor at Harvard, where he lectures and researches with the help of his brilliant wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). The Marstons meet exceptionally beautiful (and engaged) young Radcliffe student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) and hire her as their assistant ... but not before Elizabeth asks Olive to kindly not sleep with her husband. Soon the trio discovers a key component to lie-detector test functionality, which allows them to interview one another about intimate topics -- such as the fact that it's clear that they're all very much in love with one other. Fast-forward, and the Marstons have created a polyamorous life, complete with children (all fathered by Marston) and a cover story (that Olive was a single mom "taken in" by the Marstons). Eventually, a trip to a custom lingerie shop leads to light bondage and dominance/submission role play, and, voilà -- Wonder Woman is born.

Is it any good?

Bolstered by excellent performances, this earnest biopic elevates the ménage à trois to its truest meaning: a "household of three." What should seem scandalous is portrayed as inevitable from the very first time Olive is backlit like a porcelain-skinned goddess in the Marstons' class. Hall is particularly outstanding as the put-upon Elizabeth, who's every bit as intelligent as her husband but can't convince Harvard to admit her to a Ph.D. program. The blunt, brilliant woman tells her husband that she doesn't experience sexual jealousy, yet the moment they hire Olive as an assistant, Elizabeth asks her not to sleep with her husband. It turns out that while Bill is smitten with Olive, she's actually fallen for Elizabeth, even though Olive is engaged to a man who thinks the Marstons are perverse.

Eventually -- and thanks to the lie-detector test the Marstons helped invent (or at least improve) -- the truth is revealed. All three of them harbor sexual feelings for one another. The story fast-forwards, showing how the trio (now with kids!) has moved, Big Love-style, into a suburban home. By the time Bill takes the women to a lingerie shop that's a front for a circle of BDSM aficionados, it's crystal clear how he was inspired by his two lovers to create Wonder Woman: the lasso of truth, the bracelets of submission, and so forth. Fascinating if overly fictionalized, this is a compelling look at just how subversive the feminist superhero really was -- and, if director Angela Robinson's interpretation is substantiated, still could be perceived.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what viewers learn about the original Wonder Woman comic and its creation. Does knowing this story change the way you think about the superhero?

  • Do you think Bill and Elizabeth's relationship with Olive would be accepted today? Why or why not? How has society changed since this story took place?

  • How does the movie portray sex? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • The movie is based on real events, but there's no evidence that the central relationship was as open and sexual as the filmmaker envisions. Do you think biographical films have a duty to stick to only fact-based material, or is it OK for them to fictionalize aspects of their subjects' lives?

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