Sexiest origin of an origin story
As the movie we need right now, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women could not be better timed. News reports might be awash in abuses of authority and grievous misconduct within the movie industry, but here’s a story that not only celebrates female power and openminded idealism, but embodies those values in its very warp and woof.
As its title suggests, the fact-based film tells the story of William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), the psychologist and inventor who, under the pen name Charles Moulton, created the comic book heroine Wonder Woman. The character’s origin story was adapted by Patty Jenkins into a rousing actionadventure this past summer.
Here, writer-director Angela Robinson delves into the real-life inspirations behind Marston’s creation, which included: progressive politics; the psychological theories of Freud and Jung; a long-term romantic and domestic relationship between Marston, his psychologist wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote); and the trio’s discovery and enjoyment of the world of fetish objects and role-playing.
If that all sounds terribly edgy — maybe even a little dark — rest assured: Robinson gives Professor Marston the classy, high-gloss sheen of a rich period piece, introducing William and Elizabeth as they pursue their research at Harvard, and following them through the 1940s, when Marston introduced his feminist archetype, kitted out with a form-fitting corset, lasso, metal wrist cuffs and diadem.
As the movie makes clear, these sartorial details didn’t emerge from a leering sense of kink or voyeurism. Rather, Marston was determined to give boys a positive role model of a female hero they could respect and look up to. The attraction to accoutrements of bondage and submission had its roots in his and Elizabeth’s research, which included human behaviour, dissembling and ultimately inventing an early lie-detecting machine.
The theme of honesty — living according to one’s principles, embracing sometimes taboo sexual desires, pursuing love and friendship in good faith — pervades Professor Marston, which is consistently absorbing, sensuous and lovely to look at, but most interesting when it focuses on Olive and Elizabeth.
Hall delivers a prickly, tour-de-force performance as the brilliant, disarmingly frank Elizabeth, who despite her superior intelligence is relegated to second banana in her husband’s academic career. In one of the film’s finest, most judiciously calibrated scenes, she and Olive embark on a tentative seduction, eventually inviting William to join them with a simple outstretched hand and direct, knowing look.
It’s a moment, like so many in Professor Marston, that could easily have been played for maximum titillation or prurient appeal. Instead, Robinson invests it with emotion, maturity and, perhaps surprisingly, a tone of wholesome reassurance.
Oddly enough, Marston himself isn’t nearly as vividly drawn as his female companions and collaborators. Here, he comes across as little more than a well-meaning but relatively insipid man who had the good sense to surround himself with far more interesting women. Still, he’s a sympathetic figure in an engrossing and beautifully told glimpse at the not-so-recent past that feels vital, groundbreaking and forward-leaning. MY LITTLE PONY
An early press screening on a Saturday morning? We’re going to take a hard pass on that. Not reviewed.
As a lifetime Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and No. 2 to J. Edgar Hoover, Mark Felt was not exactly an ordinary man, but he was, it seems, a highly unlikely candidate to topple a presidency. Felt was the man behind Deep Throat, the Watergate whistleblower who led Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to the explosive truth behind that break-in. He lived only as a shadowy mystery in the popular imagination until he gave up his long-held secret in 2005, a few years before he died. By then what he represented had already transcended anything an actual human could live up to.
It’s not a surprise then that the fictionalized telling of his story in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is a little underwhelming. The mundanities of the truth could hardly be as sexy as decades of intrigue and mythology enshrined in history and the enduring greatness of
All the President’s Men. But director Peter Landesman (Concussion) and star Liam Neeson nonetheless manage to weave together a fairly compelling (if disputed) ticktock of how it all went down from Felt’s purview. Mark Felt opens in select cities today. It expands throughout the fall across Canada. KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
In the first film about a secret spy group known as Kingsman, we learned they are well-dressed, courtly and perfectly groomed. But by the second film, there’s a decidedly ungentlemanly whiff about them — of desperation. This sequel is an overlong, laboured affair that lacks the fizz of its predecessor. Even an insane cameo by Elton John — in his full feather and rhinestone glory — can’t save it.
Rebecca Hall (left), Luke Evans and Bella Heathcote share a polyamorous relationship in Professor Marston.