Screen

‘Professor Marston’ explores the kinky origins of a comic-book icon

Image
Marston (center) and the women in his life.
Photo: Annapurna / Courtesy

Three and a half stars

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote. Directed by Angela Robinson. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.

Given his immense contributions to American culture, as the inventor of both Wonder Woman and the lie detector, it’s surprising that there hasn’t already been a biopic about William Moulton Marston. Or maybe it’s not surprising—Marston was just as notable for his unorthodox personal life, including a long-term polyamorous relationship and a strong interest in BDSM. Now thanks to the success of the recent Wonder Woman movie, writer-director Angela Robinson has a much bigger spotlight for her longtime passion project, biopic Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.

Luke Evans plays Bill, as everyone calls him, a Radcliffe College psychology professor in the late 1920s whose professional and personal partner is his wife and fellow psychologist Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). They’re already iconoclasts with progressive ideas about marriage and sexuality when they meet Radcliffe undergrad Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), who volunteers as Bill’s research assistant and inspires more than just scholarly interest from both Marstons.

Even the free-thinking Marstons have trouble at first embracing the idea of the threesome, but once they do, Robinson depicts the relationship as tender and passionate, no different from any other movie love story (including its rough spots). Driven out of academia because of his scandalous private life, Bill eventually comes up with the idea of creating a comic-book superhero to embody his ideas about feminism and the power of loving submission. Yes, Wonder Woman is a bondage fantasy of sorts, but Robinson depicts the characters’ interest in BDSM in the same positive, understanding way as their initial three-way attraction.

Although it succumbs to some typical biopic weaknesses (including an exposition-heavy framing sequence featuring Bill getting grilled by a family-values crusader), Professor Marston is thrilling for the way it connects its characters’ personal passions to their iconic creations, and completely entertaining from start to finish. Hall is fantastic as the blunt, whip-smart Elizabeth, sometimes overshadowing her more reserved co-stars. But they balance each other out well, and the sex scenes among the trio are playful and sensuous, with a genuine sense of romance. Robinson uses a conventional structure to tell an unconventional story, making her subject both radical and relatable in the process.

Tags: Film
Share

Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

Get more Josh Bell
  • Returning to the Palms, LVFF 2018 offers talked-about indie films shorts programs, animation, student films, parties and more.

  • Solo: A Star Wars Story opens Valleywide on May 25.

  • Movie screens are becoming more like TVs, and robots will serve you frozen yogurt.

  • Get More Film Stories
Top of Story