"Professor Marston & the Wonder Woman"

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Yes, "Wonder Woman" was the surprise of the summer, no make that the year, but what might even be more surprising is the story of the heroine's original creator. Harvard-educated William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), taught Psych at Radcliffe with his wife Elizabeth Holloway (Rebecca Hall), a no-nonsense kind of gal that was ahead of her time in terms of feminism and sexuality. Dominance and submission are what this eccentric couple were after and given that this was all happening in the 1920's, many timid minds were offended, to say the least.  Enter Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), Marston's student and eventual muse in his educational endeavors. As an unadorned fan of Marston's Olive is ready to volunteer at any cost, and volunteer she does, participating in the professor's many tantalizing experiments. Holloway agrees but warns the young protegee to not sleep with her husband or else, "don't fuck my husband" she says in a dryly persuasive delivery. However, it's not with the professor that this young bright mind's main desires lie, it's actually Holloway herself and, as we learn, the feeling is mutual. Marston, Holloway, and Byrne eventually embark on a three-way relationship that doesn't just confuse their neighbors next door but the main perpetrators themselves, who have enough confused emotional investment in each other to blow the roof off of their beautiful suburban house. 

Of course, this isn't really about Wonder Woman and more about the sexual discovery that led to the heroine. DC fans need not worry as the creation of the Amazonian princess does come about in the final third where her spirit starts to develop in Marston's creative psyche. What helps offset it is his deep dive in s&m, he and his wife are turned on when they hide at Olive's sorority house and see her get spanked by the sisterhood. However,  the AHA! moment happens when our threesome visits a Greenwich village sex shop and try on some kinky wear.  Wonder Woman's tiara, bracelet, corset, boots and famous rope? All inspired by that visit to the sex shop on that fateful day.  In fact, the Lasso of Truth, which is the aforementioned rope Wonder Woman uses on people to force them not to lie was actually inspired by a bondage rope at that shop.

Writer-director Angela Robinson is best known for her risky TV work (The L Word, True Blood) and the translation from the tube to the big show feels somewhat bumpy as the visual style and narrative safeness she employs feel all too conventional for a story this pertinently unconventional. The film is intellectually engaging, it begs for us to ask questions that even today might seem mightily sensitive, but emotionally there's something missing with these characters. It just doesn't feel like these gloriously beautiful people can be the same outsiders of the actual events. We know their adventures fascinate but Robinson smoothes the rough edges a little too much for any artfulness to seep through her frames. Instead of letting these characters breathe a little, Robinson seems more interested in the obvious which has to come with the explanatory dialogue that all-too-often comes in biopics having to go through many years in a two-hour runtime. 

Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman" reminded me of 2004's "Kinsey," which had Liam Neeson playing the controversial sex doctor and the risky sex experiments he conducted in the 1950s. However, if Bill Condon's film made the eccentric sexologist's adventures snappily witty and spirited, Robinson seems to have sucked out any of the interesting traits in her characters. They might be interesting people on-page but in "Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman," they fell all too vanilla [B-]
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