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‘Professor Marston’ is a wonder of a movie

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

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” directed by Angela Robinson, is a wonderfully sensitive and insightful superheroine origin story.

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

A dashing Radcliffe psychology professor with a headstrong, genius wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), Marston encounters a beautiful undergrad, Olive (Bella Heathcote), in class, who becomes their assistant, friend and confidant. It’s through their 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 and funny, while Olive is soft, guileless and pure of heart. Once they buck tradition to build a life as a threesome, their sex life takes on a new dimension, thanks to some lessons at the local sex shop, and they delight in role play and light bondage. His inspirational light bulb for the comic book is the wonderful women at home, and he draws on their traits and experiences to create the iconic 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 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 a pleasure in submission to them. It’s a radically feminist notion.

The film is beautifully and brilliantly made. The script is aces, too, filled with humdingers that Hall tears into ferociously. She is captivating as Elizabeth — witty, brutal, stubborn and always the last to submit. Heathcote is also stunning.

It’s empowering to experience a film that so warmly embraces — even worships! — powerful women and their sexuality. That’s a rare experience at the movies. Robinson presents stepping into fantasy as empowerment, as possibility, a moment to test or break the chains of social bondage.

In “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” you’ll discover the surprising psychology behind Wonder Woman, and perhaps a newfound appreciation for her powers to crumble social norms with sensuality. Truly, it is a wonder of a movie.

Movie review

‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’

R for strong sexual content including brief graphic images and language. 1:48. Fayette, Hamburg, Richmond.

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