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Review: ‘Professor Marston’ explores Wonder Woman roots

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Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote are tripped up in this tale about the comic superhero’s kinky origins

With the smash success of this summer’s “Wonder Woman” and with “Justice League” still to come, 2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for the mighty princess.

“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” offers a different take on the “Wonder Woman” story. There won’t be any action figures for this one — at least not in the toy aisle at Target — as it rather clumsily explores the kinky roots of the female superhero and the thinly veiled bondage overtones at her story’s core.

Luke Evans (Gaston in this year’s “Beauty and the Beast”) plays William Moulton Marston, a college professor married to Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall, who’s twice as good as anyone or anything else in the movie), who, too, is an academic.

Marston and his wife are exploring themes of dominance and submission (it’s the 1920s, these things are not widely accepted) when on campus, Marston spots young co-ed Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), in whom he sees a potential student assistant and, well, more. Soon, all three are in a polymorphous relationship, and Byrne winds up the inspiration for Marston to create the Wonder Woman character.

“Professor Marston” is framed by Marston’s battles with a decency board over “Wonder Woman’s” content, giving the film a thin dramatic device that never puts enough at stake. It’s better when focusing on its three-way love story, which it handles with delicacy and grace.

Still, Heathcote — who was quite good as a vapid model in last year’s “The Neon Demon” — can’t handle the heft of the role; much of “Marston” relies on her and her ability to enchant, and she seems outclassed by the material (and by Hall in particular).

Writer-director Angela Robinson (TV’s “The L Word”) is hesitant to go all the way with the film’s premise; it stops short of embracing the very kink that it is talking about, favoring a softened version that feels sanitized for general audiences. Wonder Woman wouldn’t stand for that; “Professor Marston” could stand to gain from being tied up in her lasso of truth.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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@grahamorama

‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’

GRADE: C

Rated R for strong sexual content including brief graphic images and language

Running time: 108 minutes

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