Part conspiracy thriller, part fairy tale, the visually stupefying but unfeeling Hanna may be seen as Joe Wright’s live-action version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Saoirse Ronan is a mommy-less 16-year-old living with very special powers in the snowy wilds of northern Finland, yearning to be part of our world. A polyglot reared on absurd fairy tales throughout her young life, she sees her superhuman physical might finessed by her foxy, batshit-crazy father (Eric Bana), all so she can venture out of their remote safety zone after pressing a red button and battle a
sea witch intelligence operative played by Cate Blanchett. And from beginning to end, the girl’s misadventures are filmed by Wright with the same look-ma-isn’t-it-neat visual braggadocio of Atonement‘s Dunkirk sequence.
A gonzoid pop entertainment, Hanna chronicles a girl’s coming of age in obscene hyperdrive, except Hanna is less girl than machine. Propelled by the filmmakers through a series of danger-wracked situations and exotic locales, she makes friends with a nomadic hippie couple’s shrill daughter, botches her first kiss with a Spanish boy by literally coming on too strong, discovers electricity, then music, for the first time, and finally learns the banal truth of her identity. Captured early on by Marissa Wiegler’s (Blanchett) minions, she escapes from an underground intelligence facility that’s art directed to suggest a Richard Serra exhibit, negotiating the labyrinthine corridors of her momentary prison with the ingenuity of Frogger.
This gorgeous folly doesn’t lack for visual enticement, but unlike Neil Jordan’s In Dreams, it’s a cold-blooded sort of enticement. Circular motifs dominate Wright’s self-conscious artistry, beginning with the striking opening shot of water fizzily circling a patch of snow in the middle of a river, an image that suggests a platelet resisting a foreign invasion within the body’s circulatory system, then fittingly tied to the turmoil encoded in Hanna’s unique DNA. But there’s no emotion, let alone logic, to anchor the film’s goofy aesthetic vivacity; from the red button Hanna has to press to usher herself into womanhood, to the freakish show Blanchett’s cipher of a character makes of flossing her teeth, the film’s sense of dramatic and character minutia is nothing if not arbitrary.
The soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers is a predictably exciting cavalcade of ever-coiling ribbons of block-rockin’ beats, but the music doesn’t exactly compliment Hanna’s kinetic sojourn through Wright’s Tykwer-by-way-of-Fassbinder view-askew of Germany; too often, the film’s set pieces seem to cut themselves to the Chems’s metallic trance, and Hanna simply becomes a pageantry of music-video chic. Though you understand Marissa as the Big Bad Wolf to Hanna’s Red Riding Hood, why the former, possibly periodontal-diseased assassin cares so much about eating Ronan’s “perfect soldier” alive flies over one’s head as swiftly as Hanna soars above the stacked containers at a docking station—and, most absurdly, a series of swan-shaped boats at a rundown amusement park. “I just missed your heart,” a gun-toting Hanna says both at the start and end of the film, and you feel as if she’s talking directly at the audience.