‘Pro­fes­sor Marston’ is a won­der of a movie

The Mercury News Weekend - - MOVIE GUIDE - By KatieWalsh

Ear­lier this year was when we col­lec­tively fell for “Won­der Wo­man” on the big screen. Pro­pelled by cul­tural tides and played by Gal Gadot, she was the hero we so badly needed.

Now be pre­pared to fall in love with Won­der Wo­man all over again, thanks to the sen­si­tive and in­sight­ful su­per­hero ori­gin story “Pro­fes­sor Marston and the Won­der Women,” writ­ten and di­rected by An­gela Robin­son.

Robin­son maps the psy­chol­ogy of Won­der Wo­man onto the life story of her cre­ator, Dr. Wil­liam Moul­ton Marston ( Luke Evans), who led a very un­con­ven­tional life for his time.

A dash­ing Har­vard- ed­u­cated psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor with a head­strong ge­nius of a wife, El­iz­a­beth ( Re­becca Hall), Marston en­coun­ters a beau­ti­ful un­der­grad, Olive ( Bella Heathcote), in class, who be­comes their as­sis­tant, friend and con­fi­dante. It’s through their psy­chol­ogy re­search into hu­man emo­tion, and the­o­ries of dom­i­nance and sub­mis­sion, that the trio open up to each other (while test­ing lie de­tec­tor pro­to­types), and fall in love.

Marston de­clares that th­ese two to­gether are the per­fect wo­man — El­iz­a­beth is bold, smart, un­fil­tered and funny, while Olive is soft, guile­less and pure of heart. Once they buck tra­di­tion, con­ven­tion and “nor­malcy” to build a life as a three­some, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore their sex life takes on a new di­men­sion, thanks to some lessons at the lo­cal sex shop, and they de­light in role- play­ing and light bondage.

Marston’s in­spi­ra­tional light­bulb for the comic book is the won­der­ful women at home, and he draws on their traits and ex­pe­ri­ences to cre­ate the iconic fe­male su­per­hero.

Robin­son em­ploys a 1945 de­cency hear­ing headed by Josette Frank (Con­nie Brit­ton) of the Child Study As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica as a nar­ra­tive fram­ing de­vice to draw out Marston’s ex­plicit ex­pla­na­tion of his char­ac­ter. Frank’s in­qui­si­tion forces him to jus­tify his rea­sons for cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter for chil­dren with so much kinky stuff.

But Marston, ahead of his time (and our time) pas­sion­ately ar­tic­u­lates his be­lief that coded mes­sages in a pop­u­lar medium aimed at the next gen­er­a­tion could cre­ate a trend of lov­ing re­spect for pow­er­ful women and plea­sure in sub­mis­sion to them. It’s a rad­i­cally fem­i­nist no­tion.

The film is beau­ti­fully made. The vis­ual de­sign is clas­si­cal Hol­ly­wood, ren­dered in rich, sat­u­rated tones, with a play­ful ap­proach to light and shadow. The edit­ing is de­cid­edly con­tem­po­rary — a whirling, in­tox­i­cat­ing tempo, cut­ting swiftly between time pe­ri­ods to draw con­nec­tions and main­tain a swift but easy pace.

Hall is ut­terly cap­ti­vat­ing as El­iz­a­beth — witty, bru­tal, stub­born and al­ways the last to sub­mit. Heathcote is also stun­ning, a step far beyond her work in films like “Neon De­mon.”

Truly, “Pro­fes­sor Marston and the Won­der Women” is a won­der of a movie.

CLAIRE FOLGER — ANNAPURNA PIC­TURES

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

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