PRO­FES­SOR MARSTON AND THE WON­DER WOMEN

Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen -

DI­REC­TOR An­gela Robin­son

CAST Luke Evans, Re­becca Hall, Bella Heath­cote, Oliver Platt, Con­nie Brit­ton

PLOT Years be­fore be­com­ing a comic-book writer, Wil­liam Marston (Evans) was a univer­sity pro­fes­sor, teach­ing psy­chol­ogy. His wife (Hall) and young as­sis­tant (Heath­cote) will each play a key role in the cre­ation of a new char­ac­ter called Won­der Woman.

FACTUALITY IS WON­DER Woman’s stock in trade; af­ter all, the su­per­hero’s weapon of choice is a Lasso-of-truth, rather than, say, a Rope Of Right­eous­ness or Ca­ble Of Gen­eros­ity. So it’s dis­ap­point­ing to find this tale of the char­ac­ter’s cre­ation, pur­port­edly based on real-life events, ring­ing so false. On pa­per it sounds like a bold, weird and com­pelling sub­ject mat­ter for a movie: the se­cret life of aca­demic­turned-comic-book writer Wil­liam Moul­ton Marston, who had a long-time polyamorous re­la­tion­ship with his wife El­iz­a­beth and their stu­dent Olive. But on screen it plays out like wa­tered-down Hall­mark Chan­nel pab­u­lum, all sun-dap­pled close-ups and end­less tin­kly piano. And given that many of the film’s big mo­ments were in­vented for the sake of drama, as di­rec­tor An­gela Robin­son her­self ad­mits, it makes it all the more mys­ti­fy­ing why the story doesn’t have more grip­ping twists and turns.

It starts whole­somely enough: in a 1920s lec­ture room, Pro­fes­sor Marston (Evans) lays out his the­o­ries on sub­mis­sion and dom­i­na­tion, while his wife El­iz­a­beth (Hall), an aca­demic pow­er­house her­self who is con­strained by the fact she’s a woman, stands to the side watch­ing. But soon the mar­ried pair are em­broiled in a most un­con­ven­tional dy­namic with their young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced re­search as­sis­tant Olive (Heath­cote). As the three-sided re­la­tion­ship deep­ens and be­comes phys­i­cal, it’s tested both from within and with­out; suf­fice to say, their Ivy League higher-ups don’t re­act well to ad­ven­tur­ous sex­u­al­ity. A se­ries of flash-for­wards con­trast, rather crudely, the bright colours of Marston’s free-think­ing class­room with a dark cham­ber in which he’s grilled by a con­ser­va­tive panel.

Di­rec­tor An­gela Robin­son is to be ap­plauded for tak­ing on such en­ve­lope-push­ing sub­jects. Pre­vi­ously, she di­rected D.E.B.S., a les­bian spin on Char­lie’s An­gels, and episodes of The L Word, so Pro­fes­sor Marston And The Won­der Women’s themes are clearly close to her heart. There’s some­thing off-puttingly pol­ished about the ac­tion, though, which stops the char­ac­ters from ever feel­ing truly real. Even the film’s big sex scene is an overly stylised, soft-fo­cus af­fair, with the trio don­ning dra­made­part­ment cos­tumes and pulling poses as a bland cover of Nina Si­mone’s Feel­ing Good plays.

At least the per­for­mances are strong. Hall is the most nu­anced as the steely, com­pli­cated El­iz­a­beth, who tells her hus­band, “I’m your wife, not your jailer,” then al­most im­me­di­ately in­forms their new stu­dent she’s not to get in­volved with him (she ac­tu­ally says, “Don’t fuck my hus­band”). Heath­cote and Evans’ char­ac­ters are a lit­tle less three-di­men­sional, but the stars still tackle their big scenes with gusto, even when things get silly, as they do in a late se­quence in­volv­ing a pro­to­type Won­der Woman cos­tume which falls some­what short of the im­port it’s strain­ing for.

Al­to­gether, it’s an ode to blaz­ing one’s own trail which fol­lows the safest path imag­in­able. On the plus side, while Won­der Woman got beaten in the race to the big screen by Bat­man and Su­per­man decades ago, there’s yet to be a pres­tige drama about the cre­ation of ei­ther of those su­per-dudes. Progress, of sorts. NICK DE SEM­LYEN

VER­DICT The lesser of 2017’s two Won­der Woman movies, this at­tempt to ex­plore a com­plex three-sided re­la­tion­ship is let down by bland sto­ry­telling.

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