Story of Won­der Wo­man cre­ator is not for the kids

Times Colonist - - Arts - COLIN COVERT

RE­VIEW

Pro­fes­sor Marston and the Won­der Women Where: Cine­plex Odeon Vic­to­ria Star­ring: Luke Evans, Re­becca Hall, Bella Heathcote Di­rected by: An­gela Robin­son Parental ad­vi­sory: 14A Rat­ing: Three stars out of four

I imag­ine that many par­ents who had happy out­ings with their chil­dren at the sum­mer block­buster Won­der Wo­man might con­sider tak­ing them to the new fea­ture bi­og­ra­phy of Princess Diana’s ground­break­ing cre­ator.

I wouldn’t ad­vise that. Pro­fes­sor Marston and the Won­der Women is not your av­er­age su­per­hero ori­gin story.

Fact-based and rather weird, this is a de­cid­edly kinky adult film. As it probes the hid­den roots of the world’s most fa­mous su­per­hero, we learn re­mark­able things about her maker’s ec­cen­tric pri­vate life.

Be­fore he in­tro­duced the char­ac­ter and her iconic leo­tard, psy­chol­o­gist Wil­liam Moul­ton Marston (Luke Evans) was a be­havioural re­searcher at Tufts Univer­sity in Mas­sachusetts in the 1920s. With the help of his bril­liant wife, El­iz­a­beth (Re­becca Hall), he de­signed the lie de­tec­tor, which cor­re­lates the con­nec­tion between blood pres­sure and emo­tions.

The pair ap­par­ently ex­pe­ri­enced rag­ing surges of both as they took their beau­ti­ful for­mer stu­dent Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) as their mu­tual lover.

The film em­pha­sizes that this is no tacky teacher-stu­dent tryst. It’s pre­sented as an ex­pres­sion of polyamorous com­mit­ment between two in­tel­li­gent, self­em­pow­ered women and their anti-Pu­ri­tan shared hus­band who be­lieved that women are su­pe­rior to men and should run the world. Di­rec­tor An­gela Robin­son (who made the trail­blaz­ing les­bian ac­tion­com­edy D.E.B.S.) han­dles the trio’s on­go­ing in­ter­re­la­tion­ships, in­volv­ing cos­tumes and bondage play, with non­judg­men­tal can­dour and good taste.

El­iz­a­beth and Olive each had two of Marston’s chil­dren and lived to­gether in a sin­gle home. His teach­ing ca­reer was de­railed by the sort of scan­dal you would ex­pect, but he kept the fam­ily afloat fi­nan­cially when he turned au­thor and de­cided to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive to the blood­cur­dling vi­o­lence and hy­per­mas­cu­line world­view of most comic books.

With his dou­ble wives as in­spi­ra­tion, he wanted to give women a hero of their own who would fight against war, greed, in­equal­ity and op­pres­sion. As for her el­e­gant, corset-tight cos­tume, well, he just liked that sort of thing. Much to the sur­prise of DC Comics pub­lisher Charles Gaines, who hired Marston in 1940 as a con­sul­tant to de­flect ris­ing crit­i­cism of his Su­per­man and Bat­man ti­tles, Diana of Par­adise Is­land be­came a hit.

The film is a light­weight ar­gu­ment against prej­u­dice to­ward un­con­ven­tional peo­ple and non­con­formists, buoyed by a solid cast. As Marston, Evans of­fers a much gen­tler, more schol­arly char­ac­ter than his nar­cis­sis­tic Gas­ton from Beauty and the Beast. Hall (Iron Man 3) ex­cels as the highly in­tel­li­gent, brit­tle El­iz­a­beth, and while Olive is pre­sented as a ver­i­ta­ble sprin­kler of tears, Heathcote (Dark Shad­ows) also gives her lay­ers of ad­ven­tur­ous courage and charm.

My over­all favourite, how­ever, is Oliver Platt’s bliss­fully funny turn as DC pub­lisher Gaines, a no-non­sense busi­ness­man who doesn’t care what mes­sage his comics en­dorse as long as they sell. Like J. Jonah Jameson in the Spi­der-Man story, the hot­tem­pered CEO al­ways gets the best laughs.

Bella Heathcote, left, Luke Evans and Re­becca Hall in Pro­fes­sor Marston and the Won­der Women.

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