Film Review: Hanna

'Hanna' starts out edgy and fresh, but runs out of steam and imagination, ending up, after many obligatory chases, in the same old place.

Imagine the Brothers Grimm as commercial filmmakers, their expertise in folklore adapted to the international thriller. And why not? Red Riding Hood’s close encounter with a dissembling wolf has proved itself a perennial favorite, despite the fairy tale’s preposterous narrative and gruesome imagery; surely a cinematic update, starring a sweet 16-year-old stalked by a lupine spook, would guarantee boffo box office.

Voilà Hanna, Joe Wright’s cheeky riff on the Bond and Bourne franchises—fairy tales for adults—featuring the fey Saoirse Ronan as a preternatural teenager reared in the Finnish forest to be a world-class assassin with one assignment: to wreak vengeance on the Central Intelligence Agency and its global minions. With Eric Bana as Erik, Hanna’s father, a rogue spy with enviable survival skills, and Cate Blanchett as Marissa, Erik’s former boss, a woman best described as the Wicked Witch of Western Hegemony, the cast may be the best thing about this self-conscious pseudo-spoof that begins with great promise but eventually loses its way, much like Hansel and Gretel.

We meet our once-upon-a-time heroine hunting elk in an enchanted woods far, far away in north country. We learn she can expertly handle a bow and arrow and a variety of firearms, gut a beast ten times her weight (and construct a makeshift sleigh to transport it back to camp) and, while cooking dinner, recite from memory the contents of a single-volume encyclopedia (in several languages). More impressive still, Hanna routinely fends off surprise attacks by her otherwise loving Da, who tests her martial-arts skills even as she lies abed in their cozy cabin.

Odd, but we soon learn what’s up. Erik has been training his gifted daughter to confront his archenemy, Marissa, who has done bad things to him in particular and humankind generally. We also learn that Hanna isn’t your ordinary, precocious young lady with superb hand-eye coordination, although her real identity turns out to surprise even her. Finally, we learn that Erik has a master plan that requires his daughter to improvise her way through a series of tight spots in hostile environments in order for her to right certain wrongs. Cue the Chemical Brothers hipster soundtrack, untether the Black Hawks and…away we go!

Hanna has its moments, and for the first 50 minutes evokes comparison to such stylish continental thrillers as Diva, Run Lola Run and Night Watch. The film’s premise may be absurd and the action implausible, but Wright gets our adrenaline pumping, cinematographer Alwin Küchler and production designer Sarah Greenwood treat us to splendid landscapes (including highly entertaining sequences in Morocco) and casting director Jina Jay offers up counterintuitive surprises, from Tom Hollander’s velour-clad sociopath to Olivia Williams’ anachronistic hippy-dippy mom shepherding her family across the Maghrib in an ancient VW bus.

Then a pack of CIA suits start a punch-up with Erik in a subway station below a bus depot, and the usual leather-jacketed Euro thugs hound Hanna around an industrial container park, and the film slowly but surely devolves into a what feels like one long chase scene. Plot overtakes style, the soundtrack loses it novelty (and grows increasingly annoying), and the characters mutate into caricatures. Marissa is delightfully creepy clicking her stilettos on the marble floors of her Langley-like fortress, until she inexplicably metamorphoses into a psycho-bitch-with-Southern-accent. (Her habit of flossing her gums bloody will weird out viewers clever enough to figure out why she does it.) Hollander and Williams wear out their welcome as well, or rather, they become afterthoughts as screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr pound out the movie’s last acts. By the time Erik and Hanna (and everyone else) rendezvous in Munich at a dilapidated amusement park with a fairy-tale theme, the movie has grown Grimmish in more ways than one.

Long before, however, audiences will have begun wondering why Erik raised Hanna to extract revenge when he had the chance to shield her from such sordid realpolitik, but then, that would be taking the whole business seriously. Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist) makes sure we don’t. Does Hanna marvel at such novelties as electricity one day, but surf the Internet like a cybernaut the next? The movie is littered with such inconsistencies, most of them throwaway bits meant to amuse, but eventually they snap our overstretched suspension of disbelief. Then again, Wright flirts with absurdity right from the start, some of the father-daughter fight scenes coming perilously close to summoning up the spirits of Cato and Clouseau.

By the movie’s climax—anticlimax, actually—its charm has evaporated. Hanna is best when our child runs wild in Scandinavia and the Sahara. Once she reaches civilized Europe, Hanna gets re-Bourne and, well, bouring.