Unreal Movie Review: Hanna

3 out of 5 stars

Hanna‘s director Joe Wright recently slammed Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch (like every other critic out there, myself included). He reckoned that Snyder’s vision of an empowered female was sexist, because it mandatorily included her having no personality and wearing ass-shorts at all possible moments.

Rather, in Hanna, we get to see his vision of what a powerful girl looks like, and she’s forcibly not sexualized because A) she’s clearly underage and B) she looks like a crazed homeless person for the duration of the film.

Young Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is no machine-toting pin-up girl, rather she’s some sort of science project, the details of which remain murky, as she’s been raised in seclusion by her paranoid father. She lives the life of an 18th century French-Canadian fur trapper, hunting caribou for food and warmth.

Her father Eric (Eric Bana) trains her in a myriad of martial arts, languages and other spy-like skills, and it becomes apparent she’s been trained for a specific mission all her life. Finally, at age 14 a switch is flipped, both literally and figuratively and Hanna is ready to begin her quest.

“This was a new couch damnit!”

Her prepared destiny involves hunting down and killing Eric’s former handler Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett), and reuniting with her father at a later date. Why this is a solo mission is never quite made clear, but he does pop up from time to time to intervene, as it turns out the task at hand is a bit much, even for a genetically superior, highly trained teenage girl.

The mystery surrounding Hanna’s past is supposed to be the thread that ties together all the running and ass-kicking, but there’s not really a big reveal per se. From the trailer we know that Hanna’s DNA is a bit wonky, and the additional info besides that is kind of extraneous. Rather, I was most surprised by a plot twist that DIDN’T exist, as I was sure it was going to be revealed that Cate Blanchett’s villainous Marissa Viegler was her mother.

The central plot doesn’t make terribly large amounts of sense either. The only reason I can think of as to why they split up Heller and Hanna is just so we can see some cool action sequences of a little girl destroying grown men. Logic would dictate they would have worked much better as a team, but I guess that would have been too “Big Daddy/Hit Girl” of them.

The film really doesn’t build to anything. It’s just a constant stream of running, and when that possibility is exhausted, occasionally there’s fighting. Bad guys and good guys alike are slowly picked off, and the final confrontation between Hanna and Viegler is something of an anti-climax. All that epic weapon and hand to hand combat, and you’re going to end things like…that?

“Yeahhh, maybe I should have gone with her.”

While the plot was surprisingly a bit vanilla for my liking, one thing the film does get right is style. Joe Wright gives a very distinct visual look to the film, and everything is gorgeous, albeit in a very distressed and ravaged way. The environments of the film, from snowy tundra, to barren desert, to abandoned dinosaur theme park (yes) often outshine the action they contain. In addition to location, the aid of the rather magnificent Chemical Brothers soundtrack that pervades the movie brings a new dimension to the already harrowing action sequences.

Hanna is meant to be a modern day fairytale, not a cute Disney one, but a wicked Brothers Grimm variant. That’s well and good, but the theme is kind of beaten into you by the end, with Grimm’s house literally the sought oasis of the movie, and some pretty un-subtle moments where for example, the film’s villain is standing in the giant open mouth of a ceramic wolf. Cool imagery, but pretty heavy handed.

It’s good to see that Saoirse Ronan can act beyond movies like The Lovely Bones, which buried her talents in a ridiculous story. Her Hanna is curious, cautious and vengeful when she needs to be, and her practically albino complexion and her flyaway hair make her look every bit the practically feral child she’s meant to be. Hanna is constantly transfixed by the wonders of modern technology and social interaction, and you would imagine during 12 years of woods training, her father might have informed her about things like electricity, planes and music, so when she finally was released into the real world, she wouldn’t be distracted from her mission by the everyday pleasures of life. But usually she snaps out of her daydream to snap a few necks, so no harm, no foul.

“What do you mean you’ve never heard of M.I.A.?”

Is this a movie about empowerment? I suppose it could be, and it would certainly be a better example than Sucker Punch, but Hanna’s gender is fairly irrelevant. The same plot could have unfolded with a teenage boy with little difference, but I suppose it’s somewhat more satisfying to watch a female wipe the floor with grown men twice her size.

It’s a fairy tale that’s been updated for the 21st century and children jaded on movie violence. It’s not particularly revelatory or intelligent, but it’s well crafted and enjoyable enough.

3 out of 5 stars

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  1. I have to disagree. I think the only thing, and I mean the only thing, the film lacked was more explanation about her beginning. If they had just explained what exactly made her so special and why the program was killed off when it was an obvious success, I think the movie would have been the best action film in years.

    Also, not one mention of The Chemical Brothers? One hell of a soundtrack, especially Container Park. That entire scene was amazing, honestly.

  2. @Josh – thank you for mentioning the soundtrack to this one. I left the theater and couldn’t stop thinking about the music in the movie. My girlfriend didn’t notice it so much, but it struck me as very fitting.

    @Paul – My theory for why they didn’t stick together is because Heller well knew that Hanna was something different and something better, and he knew that he would have slowed her down (being genetically inferior and all). I don’t think Viegler knew exactly what Hanna had turned out to be, so Heller sent Hanna off on her own so that the element of surprise works to their advantage.

    I agree that it was all relatively anti-climactic and if you couldn’t guess the words to come out of Hanna’s mouth at the end then you may be somewhat brain dead.

    All in all, I liked it. I think it had a crap ton of potential that kind of went to waste but I liked it, if for nothing else but the style/music.

  3. Thank you for your wonderful reviews! I know when you say “don’t waste your time on this one” I really should avoid it. Hanna was on my list to go see, but now I know I should.

    All that being said, I think the point of female empowerment in movies is that gender really shouldn’t and doesn’t make a difference. A chick doesn’t have to be half-naked and hot and kick ass. Because a guy wouldn’t have to be naked and hot and kick ass. Gender equality, you know. That’s also another reason I wouldn’t see Sucker Punch, even before your review solidified my view on that flick.

  4. It’s an arthouse, fairy tale, coming of age, action-thriller. Well handled script, by keeping everything subtle and up to the viewer to decipher the story (what happened to the hippie family); tremendous acting, particularly from Ronan; and the best score of the year so far.
    Best film of 2011 so far.

  5. This movie has too many plot holes. Why flip the switch for the tracking device to begin with? Oh, I get it, it’s a fairy tale device signifying that it’s time to go into the real world to fulfill her destiny as a teenage mutant assassin. How artsy. Why doesn’t Erik go with her? Oh, got it, “Run Hanna Run” wasn’t enough for the Chemical Brothers score, so we have to have “Run Erik Run” and “Swim Erik Swim,” too — in different locations with more visual effects. The other blaring problem, as you pointed out, is that Hanna is able to escape from a high-security CIA bunker with lights and security cameras, but then freaks out about the electricity and TV and telephone in the motel room in Morocco? Then there is the problem of not really understanding Marissa’s motive. Oh, right, it doesn’t really matter. We just need an evil witch and some goblins for some awesome ass-kicking action.

    I agree with many reviewers that Ronan does good job with the acting in this movie. She would have to, or more people would have suspended their disbelief in mid-flight and come crashing down with an earth-shattering kaboom. I’m guessing the music also keeps people distracted, because the soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers is excellent.

    One thing I liked was when Isaacs, Marissa’s demented, whistling henchman gets a pipe shoved down his throat by Erik (it gave a new meaning to the term mouth organ?). I wish Hanna had done that instead of Erik. Instead, Hanna was too busy MacGyver-ing a bow from the elastic in her shirt, perhaps, and a piece of string she picked up, luckily (and there is no training or advanced ability involved in luck) to kill Marissa on the fly. It was a let down for an ending. But maybe I was too exhausted after all that Run-Hanna-Running action accompanied by adrenalin-pumping techno to really care, as long as Hanna won.

    I read that they might make this movie into a video game, which makes sense. The plot is not as important as the action, and the characters can be caricatures, especially the evil ones. And The Chemical Brothers already did a song/soundtrack for a game — I think it was Wipeout.

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