Professor Marston and the Wonder Women dives deep into comic book history and tells the scandalous origin of Diana Prince. Coming in the wake of the DCEU's Wonder Woman movie earlier this summer, when Screen Rant talked to the film's stars we had to get their take.
There's no real disputing Wonder Woman's crown as the winner of Summer 2017. It was the highest grossing movie at the domestic box office for the period (only beaten in 2017 by Beauty and the Beast so far) and brought in over $800 million worldwide, breaking a host of superhero-related box office records: biggest origin story, biggest non-Batman/Avengers movie. And it was only so successful because audiences really connected to the film's embodiment of the character's message of hope and truth.
Now, we get to see where that message comes from in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Directed by Angela Robinson, the film tells the story of the polyamorous relationship between William Marston (Luke Evans), Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall) and Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) and how it led to the creation of the most famous female superhero of all time. Marston was the inventor of the lie detector and psychology theory of power in submission, DISC, which together he funneled into the developed of a character designed to sell his feminist values: Wonder Woman.
Screen Rant recently got the chance to talk with Evans and Heathcote about the making of the film and what it was like telling this lesser-known story in the wake of such a blockbuster smash. Here's what they had to say.
The Film Wasn't Made To "Cash In" On Wonder Woman
While coming only four months after Wonder Woman will no doubt help Professor Marston in terms of box office and wider public awareness (Diana Prince has never been bigger), such deft timing was almost by accident. As Evans pointed out, the film had been in development for almost a decade: "We had no distribution, nothing when the film was finished. And when Angela wrote the story it was eight years ago, so there was no knowledge or information on it." At that stage, Christian Bale was still Batman and The Avengers were a twinkle in Kevin Feige's eye, which serves to highlight the more personal goals of the project.
Not that the importance of the shared release was lost on the actors when they realized. Professor Marston went into production in early 2016, around the same time as Jenkins' film, meaning they were sure to be aware of the tentpole hit tangentially related to them. "I think we were all excited when we found out they were being made around the same time," said Heathcote, although she echoed Evans in clarifying at that point there was no assurance of such a close release, "It was very serendipitous that they happened to come out in the same year, but I remember the feeling being one of excitement and hope."
Of course, the fact that the film's October release was set mere days after Wonder Woman hit was surely no coincidence, with distributor Sony seeing an opportunity to boost interest; had the DCEU film been a stinker or not quite connected, Professor Marston could have sat on the shelf.
The Cast Really Liked The Wonder Woman Movie (For More Than One Reason)
Accidental as it may have been, the cast was nevertheless grateful for the boom Wonder Woman have given their film. "It's a joy to give this story to the world while Wonder Woman is as fresh and loved as she is now because of this incredible blockbuster from the summer," Evans said. Heathcote was less reserved, providing a gushing review: "I absolutely loved the film. I found it incredibly moving and just a beautiful story well told." She later enthused about not only the quality, but what Wonder Woman represented in the annals of superheroes and female-led blockbusters, pointing out, "this character was created 70-odd years ago and the film's only coming out now. There's been endless reboots of all the male superheroes and finally this year Wonder Woman came out and it was fantastic."
What both are particularly happy with is how the movie lined up with the core values of Wonder Woman that Marston first laid down in 1941. The actors' research had involved diving into the early Wonder Woman comics, which as the film highlights were full of overt bondage moments where the heroine and villains alike were repeatedly tied up; all part of Marston's subliminal messaging. But, within that, most of Diana Prince's core facets - the hidden island of women, the lasso of truth, her bullet-deflected gauntlets, Steve Trevor's arrival taking her to the land of man, the Invisible Jet (the most iconic piece of Wonder Woman ephemera not in the DCEU film) and more - are present from the very first issues.
Evans feels that the psychology elements Marston championed remain, albeit "in a much more subtle way": "She still has the lasso of truth and she still represents a superhero that doesn't create war, but tries to create peace and love and unity and is a pacifist, doesn't want to cause any more violence, which was what he, Elizabeth and Olive stood for. They were strong ardent feminists who were also pacifists and came from a very intelligent, psychological base."
That dilution of the overt bondage imagery is a key conflict within Professor Marston, although the film makes sure to not present that as the entire point of the character, rather entry into something truly universal. "In Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins' representation of Wonder Woman, she's this woman who's fighting for peace and that's her predominant goal," said Heathcote. "Peace love and acceptance, and I think that the takeaway from our film and the characters themselves."
And that's what both were very keen to highlight: how this seminal character came from a loving, if unconventional, relationship. Wonder Woman may have helped give it some notoriety at a very busy time at the cinema, but Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman certainly stands as an epic tale by itself.
- Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (2017) release date: Oct 13, 2017