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Professor Marston & the Wonder Women
★★ 1/2 (out of 4) Starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote. Written and directed by Angela Robinson. 108 minutes. Opens Friday at five GTA theatres. 14A Sometimes a muse sits on your shoulder and whispers inspiration. In the case of the creation of Wonder Woman, there were two. And they had ropes.
Writer-director Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston & the Wonder Women adds an unexpected chapter to the summer of the female superhero with an origin story that traces the character’s 1941 birth to a polyamorous trio with a fondness for BDSM.
Their unconventional relationship — and a trip to a New York burlesque costumer and kink merchant — inspired Harvard psychologist and inventor of the lie detector William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans of Beauty and the Beast) to dream up Wonder Woman, based on the feminist ideal he found in his lovers.
Their story is framed by Marston’s interrogation by a right-wing moralist (Connie Britton), out to hang him as a smut peddler.
Set starting in the 1920s before jumping to the 1940s, Marston and his psychologist wife Elizabeth Holloway Moulton (Christine’s Rebecca Hall) fall in love with Radcliffe student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote of Fifty Shades Darker), who eagerly reciprocates.
The biggest eyebrow raiser isn’t their ensuing three-way sex scenes, it’s how vanilla and often passionless they are, the actors framed in backlighting for dreamy tableaux.
Hall’s strong-willed Elizabeth emerges as the most interesting character, a selfaware free thinker outspoken in work and life, yet tentative when it comes to her relationship with Olive.
As for Evans’ Marston, he can’t help but seem somewhat creepy.
It’s a busy movie with a lot jammed into an under two-hour runtime.
The first third of is set in a Harvard classroom and psychology lab as Marston works on the lie detector with Elizabeth, soon to be joined by Olive.
Marston also lectures on his DISC personality theories — how people can be slotted by whether they identify with dominance, inducement, submission or compliance, traits leading to Wonder Woman’s roots.
Harvard and sister-college Radcliffe is also where the three begin exploring a fondness for BDSM, spying on a spanking session at a sorority “baby party.”
A later visit to a New York kink merchant and self-described “G-string king” shows the birth of Wonder Woman’s most familiar attributes and trademarks as part of the trio’s sexual awakening and exploration. Robinson achieves this admirably, without being obvious, almost casually slipping Wonder Woman items into the frame.
The film succeeds as a slice of history, a look at the boundary-bashing relationship behind the comic as well as the original sex-charged, violent and subversive character of Wonder Woman, who never ran out of new ways to humiliate and restrain the evildoers she’s conquering.
The practical challenges of living an unconventional life make for interesting speculation. The throuple — and children both women had by William — lived together as a family while trying to keep the nature of their relationship secret.
Fans will delight in the backstory of a beloved comic-book character but wish there was more of the Amazon princess’s rebellious spirit in the telling of the tale.
Bella Heathcote stars as Olive Byrne in Professor Marston & the Wonder Women.