Angela Robinson’s fascinating and surprisingly sweet-natured film ties together the creation of Wonder Woman and the unusual love story behind it. 3.5 stars out of 4.
There’s a superhero in “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women,” and she isn’t wearing a bustier. Rebecca Hall, who’s quietly amassed a remarkable string of performances in recent years (why she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award for “Christine” is beyond me), here plays psychologist Elizabeth Holloway Marston, a complex woman leading a complicated life. Hall makes her in turn wry, vulnerable, frustrated, persnickety, brilliant, brooding, angry and loving — she is, in short, a symphony of a person, and Hall plays her like a virtuoso. Note what she does with a teaspoon, to emphasize a not-quite-ladylike comment; or how her mouth tightens the teeniest bit, like a rope being pulled taut, when she’s saying something that isn’t true; or how, during romantic scenes, she seems to have forgotten to breathe. Just try to look away.
Angela Robinson’s fascinating and surprisingly sweet-natured film is a different sort of superhero origin story, and an appropriate bookend to this summer’s “Wonder Woman.” William Marston (Luke Evans), Elizabeth’s husband and a Harvard psychologist, was the creator of the Wonder Woman comic in the 1940s; a character inspired both by mythology and by the strong women around him. In the film, we watch not just the birth of Wonder Woman, but of the modern lie-detector machine (which William and Elizabeth invented) and of a long polyamorous relationship between William, Elizabeth and Harvard-Radcliffe student Olive Byrne (a softly vague Bella Heathcote). The film shows us their long and mostly happy life together, experimenting with bondage (a fascination which Marston brought to the Wonder Woman pages) and raising a family in a picturesque old house in upstate New York.
Robinson tells this very unusual love story with nostalgic charm, never hitting any of her notes too hard. (Olive’s ever-present wide bracelets — which became a Wonder Woman trademark — are barely commented on, but fans will notice.) Though Marston, played by Evans as a bit of a blandly benevolent doofus, is theoretically the center of the story, it’s really Hall’s movie. (Oliver Platt, as a harried publisher vainly shouting “You gotta cut the kink!” at Marston, makes a valiant try at stealing it.) Give her a cape already; she’s earned it.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Professor Marston & the Wonder Women,’ with Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, Oliver Platt. Written and directed by Angela Robinson. 108 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and language. Several theaters.