Hero­ine’s back­story not quite Ama­zon prime

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - LINDA BARNARD

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.

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