Despite ‘Matrix’-level fight scenes, ‘Hanna’ is a mash-up of tired sci-fi themes and little more
By: Roxana Hadadi
I’ve seen episodes of “The X-Files” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” better than “Hanna.” Sure, that’s a tough comparison, since those were some of the best shows of the ‘90s, and who could hate on Mulder and Scully or Buffy and Angel? But the plot points they share with “Hanna” were cutting-edge nearly two decades ago – now, not so much.
That’s ultimately the biggest flaw of the sci-fi thriller: The creepy, action-packed twists lead to a surprisingly dull conclusion that is outdated and poorly planned; for every eerie, memorable image of abandoned theme parks and brutal torture, there’s an inexplicable emotional development right around the corner. Younger teens may be impressed by the butt-kicking capabilities of Hanna, the film’s heroine (Saoirse Ronan), but the film can’t slow down enough to make believable sense. There’s a time for explanations near the end of the flick, and though “Hanna” nails gunfights and hand-to-hand combat, it can’t wrap things together in a convincing way.
Things begin in a remote corner of desolately beautiful Finland, where Hanna lives with her father Erik (Eric Bana) in “the forest”; the 16-year-old has been trained by her father to become a killing machine, with skills in archery, gymnastics and marksmanship. “You must always be ready, even when you’re sleeping,” Erik lectures, and so he attacks Hanna whether she’s hunting a deer or trying to get a nap. Every night he reads to her from an encyclopedia, telling her about the outside world, but she’s never experienced electricity or modern technology – music especially piques her interest, a concept she desperately yearns to understand.
There’s no time for the simpler things in life when you’ve been tasked with killing the woman who killed your mother, though, so Hanna puts her eyes on her ultimate goal: Penetrating the U.S. government and assassinating CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). When Hanna decides she’s ready for the task, she and Erik separate, promising to meet again in Germany after Marissa is dead … for bonding time, I guess? It’s a weird father-daughter relationship, obviously.
But Marissa, with a Southern drawl and a cold efficiency that makes her closer in temperament to the neo-Nazis she employs than her fellow U.S. agents, isn’t going down easy. She recognizes Hanna and Erik as a serious threat, more dangerous than what the government initially labels a simple one-day assignment, and a past connection to Erik gives her an inside look into what he might have Hanna do. Neither of them can live, Marissa decides, so she hires mercenary Isaacs (Tom Hollander) and his skinhead cronies to track down and kill Hanna while she goes after Erik, a chase that starts in Morocco and winds through Europe. As the pursuit gets more frantic, the violence also increases, with lots of people caught in the crossfire as secrets about Hanna’s, Marissa’s and Erik’s pasts are revealed.
Are the secrets really that explosive? Meh. The film is alright during its first half, when things are just alluded to – Marissa’s blatant corruption, Erik’s romantic relationships. Those are tempered nicely by Hanna’s wide-eyed reaction to everything new, like television and teapots, and her friendship with a family of British tourists provides an injection of simplicity that’s meant to counteract all the darkness. But it’s the gloom that the film does best: Hanna running from Isaacs and his henchmen, Erik delivering a “Matrix”-like smackdown to his pursuers, the final scenes at an amusement park inspired by various Brothers Grimm fairy tales, with a huge wolf’s head coming out of the earth and leading into a rollercoaster. So when that intensity lets up and reveals a boringly simple backstory questioning the role of family, it’s certainly a bore, rendering those previous thrills useless.
That’s not really Ronan’s, Bana’s or Blanchett’s faults, though, since the script is what’s really lacking. Hollander is horrifying when spitting out taunts like, “Run, piggy!” (it’s very “Lord of the Flies”), and his affection for stabbing enemies with steel pipes is scary, too. Blanchett rivals him with her woman-gone-mad routine, growing more desperate as the film progresses, and Ronan is affecting in her own way, bringing a memorable stillness and blankness to a role that calls for such a lack of emotion. But the film’s hasty conclusion and seemingly thrown-together ending demands us to believe personalities for these characters that haven’t been developed, leaving the film ultimately more shallow and hollow than you’d hope.
“Hanna” is rated PG-13, and it pushes the limits: There’s cursing, some sexual content and tons of violence. There’s one (completely unnecessary) kiss between two girls that is meant to seem innocent, I think, but comes off pretty weird and exploitative; some making out between teenagers; and the sounds of a couple making love. In terms of violence, what isn’t there? You see the death of a deer and its spilled intestines; numerous gunfights and gunshot wounds, including many to the head; a snapped neck; a close-up of bleeding gums and teeth; and a few torture scenes, with beatings and stabbings. In one particularly bad one, a man hangs upside-down from a ceiling, impaled with various pipes and left to bleed to death; it’s certainly not OK for squeamish teens.
Who is “Hanna” really good for? Someone without a knowledge of often-used sci-fi themes, and someone without an interest in a movie that ultimately delivers some kind of emotional payoff. “Hanna,” despite steely turns from Blanchett and Ronan, won’t give you that.