Hanna, Joe Wright’s 2011 film about a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) who’s raised by her ex-CIA operative father (Eric Bana) to be a lethal warrior and then tasked with taking out a collection of idiosyncratic baddies (led by Cate Blanchett), embellished its survivalist action with all manner of disagreeably flamboyant fairy-tale flourishes.
But oh, what one wouldn’t give for some of that color to have made its way into Amazon’s TV adaptation, which disposes with Wright’s affectations until all that remains is a functional, formulaic cat-and-mouse game.
In that respect, Hanna, whose 8-episode first season debuts on March 29, is similar to the streaming service’s recent Jack Ryan and The Widow, two other series that combine compelling actors and globe-trotting adventure to dull, visually drab effect. As conceived by showrunner David Farr (co-screenwriter of the feature), Amazon’s latest is a professionally mounted saga of female empowerment and self-actualization that begins strongly and then peters out, first slowly and then drastically, until even the sight of its teenage heroine slaughtering armies of gun-toting baddies can’t raise one’s pulse. It strives to be an adolescent Atomic Blonde-via-The Bourne Identity thriller, yet never manages to drum up even a tenth of the excitement such a description promises.
At least initially, Hanna sets a brutal, harried mood. In 2003, Erik Heller (Joel Kinnaman) breaks into a secret Romanian lab, steals a baby, and flees from pursuers—led by his old boss, Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos)—along with the infant’s mother Johanna (Cold War’s Joanna Kulig), who dies in the escape attempt, thereby relegating the great Kulig to a handful of perfunctory flashbacks. Cut to the present day, and the child has grown into 16-year-old Hanna (Esme Creed-Miles), living in the wilderness with her dad Erik, who’s trained her in the ways of hunting, tracking, fighting and other assorted badass skills. Residing in a cave dwelling, Hanna has been forbidden from passing a certain geographic boundary lest their enemies detect her. However, after getting her period, the budding young woman can’t resist the urge to venture into parts unknown, which requires hiding her tracks by scaling—and then leapfrogging between—trees like a veritable spider monkey.
This excursion gives Hanna her maiden taste of boys (and Snickers bars), and soon exposes her and Erik to Marissa, who years later is still on the lookout for the “special” girl who got away. Over the river and through the woods go Hanna and Erik, and though Hanna mercifully sidesteps any allusions to children’s fables, it doesn’t replace them with anything very captivating. After a short spell as Marissa’s prisoner, Hanna breaks free from another clandestine facility and finds herself in Morocco, where she conveniently meets and befriends Sophie (Rhianne Barreto), who’s caravanning around the country with her younger brother and quarrelling parents. For rescuing her after she’d gotten lost in the desert (a dumb and contrived twist that’s emblematic of the show’s plotting), Sophie lets Hanna tag along on their trip, thereby affording her the opportunity to cross the border into continental Europe.
Hanna is soon in Berlin, where she reconnects with Erik. Nonetheless, her time with Sophie—which included her first stay in a hotel, contact with cell phones, and make-out session with a boy in a nightclub—soon has her confused about her identity, and increasingly curious about her past and the people after her. Even without having seen the original film, audiences won’t be nearly as confused about the particulars of Hanna’s backstory, since her superhuman skills make plain what Marissa was doing with all those infants at her Romanian scientific outpost. Bombshell revelations soon follow, as do firefights and fisticuffs, but by the end of its third installment, audiences will be operating more than a few steps ahead of the show and its players.
Hanna reunites Kinnaman and Enos, who made a prickly pair of detective-partners on The Killing. Yet it largely keeps them apart; their total number of scenes together probably wouldn’t fill an entire hour-long episode. While that’s inevitable given the fundamental nature of the chase-oriented chapter, it’s still a disappointment, since they continue to share a playfully combative chemistry. In particular, a late elevator encounter between the two, beginning with cagey smiles from Kinnaman and ending with a look that’s both impressed and frustrated from Enos, suggests a far more electric series than the one upon which Farr eventually settled.
Relative newcomer Creed-Miles cuts an impressively ferocious figure, and once Hanna finds herself back with Sophie in the English suburbs, the actress skillfully reveals ever-more-tender layers to her character. Unfortunately, it’s at this point that Hanna grinds to a halt, wasting an immense amount of time on coming-of-age experiences that are handled in the draggiest, least interesting manner possible. One can feel Farr and company stretching those scenarios out in order to have enough material for eight episodes, which is almost as vexing as the realization that such a technique isn’t working. There’s a decided lack of urgency to the middle passages of Hanna and Erik’s adventures. And whether set in Spain, Germany, the UK or Romania, Hanna is a visually damp affair—its muted palette diffuses any sense of vibrancy, or urgency.
The more forward momentum slows to a crawl—lowlighted by a camping interlude involving a young suitor (Gamba Cole)—the more Hanna tries to link its characters into an all-encompassing portrait of dysfunctional parenting and its negative effects on kids. Every father and mother, whether real or surrogate, behaves in extreme ways in order to connect with, or protect, their offspring. Unfortunately, that thematic concern is dramatized in grating fashion, be it through the constant bickering of Sophie’s unimportant mom and dad, or via Marissa, whose relationship with a nagging French boyfriend and his standoffish son proves a routine distraction without any purpose other than to give Enos’ villain a veneer of complexity.
It’s apt that Hanna’s recurring musical number is a lullaby, since its later events primarily succeed at making one drowsy. Bursts of limb-snapping action go some way toward rousing it from its sluggish stupor, albeit not enough to warrant sticking around until the finale, which only further hints at a number of more intriguing alternative paths the show could—and should—have taken.