Rating: 4 out of 5
The rather astonishing true story of the creation of the Wonder Woman character, this is certainly not your run-of-the-mill biopic. It's a sharply well-observed story of three intellectual people who choose to live a scandalously counterculture lifestyle in the 1920s, then come up with a comic book character who goes against all the rules. Frankly, they still seem radical today.
It opens at Harvard University in the mid-1920s, where Bill Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) are psychology professors who have just invented what will become the modern lie-detector. They have hired grad student Olive (Bella Heathcote) as an assistant and, after some blatant flirting, both Bill and Elizabeth fall for her, deciding to create a three-way relationship. As they work on the details of how they will live together, Bill conceives a comic book hero who will help preach a message of female empowerment, inspired by both Elizabeth and Olive. And he infuses the comics with sadomasochistic imagery to make his point. Publishers are shocked by this, but one (Oliver Platt) gives the new character a shot. And Wonder Woman outsells Superman.
The story is told in flashbacks as Bill defends his work in the mid-1940s to a representative of the Catholic decency league (Connie Britton), who of course hates the comics' feminist ideas and sexualised imagery. She has no idea about Bill's three-way relationship, or the fact that he fathered two children with each woman. Writer-director Angela Robinson (The L Word) uses this cross-cutting structure to develop some tension between Bill, Elizabeth and Olive that feels more cinematic than realistic. But the three actors keep the characters remarkably grounded, with a brainy and open-minded approach to their life together. Evans is superb in the central role, while Hall shines as the prickly Elizabeth, who wants to be liberal but can't control her jealous impulses. By comparison, Heathcote's Olive feels rather passive, even though she has moments of steely energy.
Through all of this, there are powerful currents of emotion that bring the people and situations to vivid life. Robinson's central point seems to be that it's important to avoid being distracted by sensational details, causing us to miss the important elements of a story. The key question is whether anything is actually "normal". And along with an eye-opening exploration of how this important, iconic comic book superhero was created, this is a powerful depiction of how society fears outsiders who bring big ideas that can change the world.
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Facts and Figures
Production compaines: Opposite Field Pictures, Topple Productions, Boxspring Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Cast & Crew
Director: Angela Robinson
Producer: Terry Leonard, Amy Redford
Screenwriter: Angela Robinson
Starring: Luke Evans as Dr. William Moulton Marston, Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth Marston, Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne, Connie Britton as Josette Frank, J. J. Feild as Charles Guyette, Chris Conroy as Brant Gregory, Oliver Platt as M.C. Gaines, Maggie Castle as Dorothy Roubicek, Alexa Havins as Molly Stewart, Allie Gallerani as Sara, Christopher Jon Gombos as Fred Stewart, Forry Buckingham as Doctor, Frank Ridley as Manager, Ken Cheeseman as Dean Liddy, Tom Kemp as Harry Peter, Christopher Paul Richards as Teen Donn, Sebastian Wood as Teen Son, Pamela Figueiredo as Radcliffe Student, Allie Marshall as Senior Sorority Sister, Acei Martin as Radcliffe Student / Sorority Sister, Olivia Filleti as Radcliffe Student, Lexie Roth as Theatre Student, London Hall as Nurse, Larry Eudene as Reporter, Logan Raposo as College Student, Kristen Anne Ferraro as Hospital Visitor, Shawn Contois as Comic Book Artist, Ian Dylan Hunt as Reporter, Jessica Rockwood as Bondage Class Student, Douglas Cowell as Comic Book Artist, Ally Looney as Neighbor, Anthony Pelton as Reporter, Kasey Murray as Olive Ann Marston, Melissa Jalali as Sorority Sister, James L. Leite as Comic Book Artist, Caitlin Batts as Comic Reading Girl, Lily Gordenstein as Olive Ann - 12 Year Old, Gavin Earle as Comic Book Kid, Ryan Canale as Comic Book Kid, Zada Clarke as Sorority Sister, Stevie Costa as Reporter, Katie Hanley as College Student, Quinn Earle as Comic Book Girl, Paul Taft as Elizabeth's Boss, Bill Nabel as Psychiatrist, Erika Spinale as Radcliffe Sorority Sister, Alexa Cahill as Freshman Pledge, Joe Cali as Reporter, Bobby Kenney as Photographer, Ilena Love as College Student, Jamie Mazareas as Comic Book Artist, Clara McKay as Radcliffe Student, Abigail Wurster as Radcliffe Sorority Pledge