When you have a story with so many ingredients that only begin to make sense when they form together into one big story, perhaps instead of fashioning it into a 2-hour film, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” should have been made as a two-part TV miniseries.
The two main stories told here about William Moulton Marston, the psychology professor at Harvard who also created the Wonder Woman comic book, are of enough interest they each could have stood on its own: His Harvard days in the 1920s, when Marston (Luke Evans) taught an all-female Radcliffe class about how emotions lead to deception, then formed what started as a ménage a trois with his wife/assistant Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and one of his students Olive (Bella Heathcote); and his post-teaching days in the 1940s, when he created, under a pseudonym, the popular Wonder Woman comic book, then got into heaps of controversy with powerful, women-led conservative groups that accused him and his comic book of celebrating bondage, torture, and spanking and promoting lesbianism.
The complexities of what writer-director Angela Robinson tries to juggle here also include radical feminism, jealousy, the repercussions of coming from a broken family, an attraction to pornography, the supposition one person can love two people equally, the dismissal of comic books as trashy entertainment, and Marston being credited with the invention of the lie detector.
There’s just too much going on in this film, all of it played out at a slow pace. Marston is a smart, ambitious and driven man who, kind of like the script, has too many ideas going on in his head at once. Elizabeth probably is even smarter than her husband, but she’s outspoken, loud, brash, compulsive and frustrated the Harvard of the 1920s refuses to let her earn a Ph.D. there. Olive, the victim of that broken family, is engaged to a young man, but finds herself emotionally and later physically attracted to both Marston and Elizabeth.
Into this fray of so much information and storytelling, Robinson tries to pull it all together, by jumping back and forth in time and place, in an attempt to explain how events in Marston’s personal life eventually sparked the creation of and provided plots for Wonder Woman. On the plus side, the film is packed with some brave and exciting performances (even with all of my complaints), and by the three-quarters point, most of the stories have started to merge. But that’s far too late for it to make any kind of smooth continuity. The whole movie is just too complicated.