Review: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

There’s a lot of good to be said about Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Director Angela Robinson expertly takes the style and tropes of the prestige biopic and uses them to tell a story about a polyamorous BDSM relationship. It’s an awesome co-opting of mainstream storytelling to tell a decidedly un-mainstream love story. The film follows the relationship of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their lover Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). The added connection to the cultural juggernaut that is superhero media is a bonus. On the screen, superheroes have remained pretty much exclusively heteronormative. (Even with everyone from fans and critics to actors and creators occasionally arguing for more inclusive representation.)  

However, I struggled to enjoy this movie. There are some undeniably icky things about the relationship between Byrne and the Marstons. These have nothing to do with the fact that there are three of them or the sex acts they enjoy, but it’s all about power dynamics. William was Byrne’s professor, and the film even includes a scene of him gazing at her across the quad and declaring his intent to sleep with her (which is followed by his wife giving him permission). As someone who has a spent a lot of time in academia, that’s really troubling and not something I want to celebrate. It doesn’t help that the film doesn’t do much with Byrne as a character. She starts out as a wide-eyed innocent and ends up a wide-eyed innocent, but one who has had lots of kinky sex. It was difficult, if not impossible, for me to shake the initial predatory nature of the relationship and embrace the love story, as much as part of me wanted to.

The film also celebrates the inclusion of sexual imagery in the original Wonder Woman comics. Here too, I took issue. I think it’s kinda great that the comics included this stuff from an academic perspective. It’s the kinda thing that I personally love to study and analyze. But I also don’t think villainizing the the Child Study Association of America for noticing and telling Marston he had to remove the content is necessarily correct either. This is stuff most parents today wouldn’t want in their kids’ media, regardless of their feelings about homosexuality or BDSM. And to a certain extent, Marston was a grown man putting what sexually excited him into media made for children. That’s a little fucked up.

Cake Rating: What cake speaks most for ignoring some moral grey areas for a greater good? Probably something with Batman on it.

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