Imagine, if you will, that in some alternate universe the producers of the inevitable Bourne Ultimatum follow-up decide to pass the baton, since neither director nor star seem up for another lap around that particular track, to Oscar-bait director Joe Wright and (in a distaff casting coup for the lead) pre-Raphaelite-angelic teenybopper Saoirse Ronan. Further funding—given the glazed, postcard-profound globetrotting aesthetic—could easily be secured from the Travel Channel. The resulting film would uncannily resemble Wright’s confectionary-light concoction Hanna.
The wafer-thin story opens on woodsman Erik Heller (Eric Bana) and waif Hanna (Ronan), who dwell in a forest hut smack in the middle of vast, barren tundra. Clad in winter fatigues, our grrrl ably tracks and kills a massive reindeer. (When her bowshot fails to deliver a mortal blow, Hanna puts a round in Rudolph’s brainpan.) Back under the thatch, basking in the firelight’s flicker, the father-daughter pair pass the time confabulating in a multilingual hodgepodge (the film establishes a German pseudo-identity for them), Bana’s bearded paterfamilias spot-quizzing the lass out of an encyclopedia, and now and again engaging in some light hand-to-hand combat. It’s clear already that there’s something about Hanna, only it isn’t her hair gel. Temptation for the blank-slate Little Mur(der)maid to break free from her isolation chamber arises in the form of a flip-switch transponder, linked in her mind to a cargo plane roaring overhead, a sort of high-tech breadcrumb trail that will lead Hanna out of the forest and into the frying pan.
On the other end of the signal awaits Wicked Witch Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett in The Gift Southern-drawl mode), an orthodontics-obsessed C.I.A. operative out to hijack Hanna. After Hanna escapes from the clutches of clumsy C.I.A. underlings (a scene composed and cut in lockstep to the Chemical Brothers’ hard-drive harmonics; think The Third Man‘s drainpipe denouement as staged by Tarsem Singh), the border-bouncing game of Risk begins in earnest. Emerging from the subterranean spy bunker somewhere in the desert wastes of Morocco, Hanna hopscotches to Spain and finally to Germany, always two steps ahead of pasty, track suit-clad hit man Isaacs (Tom Hollander) and his skinhead henchman. Along the way, Wright attempts some bargain-basement surrealism, introducing the naïf into alien, incongruous landscapes: the bazaar atmosphere of Essaouira with its sudden shocking oasis fecundity, or the abandoned East Berlin Spreepark, a misty mid-region filled with grazing Brontosaurus and an inert Ferris wheel standing sentinel in the distance. Wright inevitably squanders these opportunities, failing to assemble anything from off-kilter building blocks that’s beyond the pale of generic expectation.
Hanna prioritizes the circular in both shot composition and narrative structure with a fixity bordering on monomania—a fact rendered bald-faced (assuming, of course, the reiterated delivery of the eureka-worthy admonition, “I just missed your heart,” didn’t have you convinced already) by the wisely unused “alternate ending,” available on the Blu-ray edition, that brings Hanna back to her abandoned arctic abode in ribbon-tidy fashion. What’s more, this end-in-its-beginning sameness negates any sense of character development, not to mention emotional investment. Such in fact is the ubiquity of Joe Wright’s curvilinear fixation, one wonders whether, when the rubber hits the road, he’s just spinning his wheels, unable to gain any traction on this mud-slick material—a story that cares precious little about its dangling narrative threads, like the fate of the hippy-dippy caravan couple (Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng) and daughter Sophie (Tamara Drewe shriek queen Jessica Barden) with whom homeward-bound Hanna hitches a ride.
Hanna‘s feint at fairy-tale subtext tends toward The Brothers Grimm end of the spectrum (strident, chaotic) rather than The Company of Wolves (revisionist, surrealist). Thing is, you can’t even rightly regard this text as “sub,” since the film elects to void its allegorical bowels all over the table in ungainly and ridiculous fashion, clobbering the viewer over the pate with unsubtle shout-outs like the Grimms Märchen picture book Hanna leafs through (its title ostentatiously subtitled for the benefit of a language-lax audience), or designating a key rendezvous point “Wilhelm Grimm’s” gingerbread house, let alone the climactic confrontation where Marissa Wiegler emerges from the Big Bad Wolf’s gaping maw. Wright pins his hopes (or should that read “shoots his load”?) on these fabulously ill-digested references to fable.
Admittedly, this kinetic whirligig looks and sounds spectacular. The Universal Blu-ray edition of Hanna pops its palette in 1080p, delivering with impeccable clarity Finland's arctic whites, the grays and steely blues of a subterranean C.I.A. compound, and the candy-colored phantasmagoria of the Grimm House (all those pulsating Christmas lights and psychotropic home furnishings). And, thanks to the Chemical Brothers' propulsive soundtrack, your subwoofers will get a block-rockin' workout every single time a kick-ass action sequence thunders along (which is often). The Brothers cannily integrate ambient noise and effects into the overall sound design, throwing in plenty of their patented bleep-blurp aesthetic, as well as a more traditional leitmotif for the German baddies to whistle while they work.
The parade of superfluities begins with the alternate ending mentioned above, followed by barely five minutes' worth of deservedly deleted scenes. "Adapt or Die" spends more time on the fight choreography and rigorous physical training regime Ronan's character underwent than "Central Intelligence Allegory" does on plot, theme, and alleged fairy-tale resonances. (Anyone who's seen the film won't find this a bit surprising.) "Chemical Reaction" pays lip service to the Chemical Brothers soundtrack. The rest of the extras are a diminishing-returns series of undernourished promos and EPK materials. Joe Wright's commentary track can be extrapolated from his contributions to the supplemental features, expanded to feature length, informative and precise, if ultimately redundant.
Sure to deliver a whopping sugar rush, as well as the inevitably sour letdown, Hanna has all the thematic heft and cerebral staying-power audiences have come to expect from this variety of cotton-candy cinema.