Once upon a time there was a little girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan: The Lovely Bones). Hanna lived in a snowy forest with her father, Erik (Eric Bana: Star Trek, The Time Traveler's Wife), who has done his best to teach her everything she needs to know to be able to survive, but children grow up, and there is only so much a child can learn from her father before she wants to learn more.
Knowing that he will eventually need to let Hanna experience the rest of the world, Erik retrieves a box he has hidden for many years, and presents it to Hanna. He tells her that if she flips the switch on the box everything will change and she can leave, but that an evil witch named Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett: The Lord of the Rings) will come for her, and she will not stop until one of them is dead.
Hanna feels she is ready though, so she flips the switch. Erik leaves her to deal with the witch's coming minions, reminding her where they are to meet, and that she must always “adapt or die”. Hanna soon discovers that the evil witch is more dangerous than she realized, that she has the big bad wolf on her side in the form of a man called Lewis (John MacMillan), and that defeating her will not be easy.
“Hanna” is director Joe Wright's fairy tale for the modern age, and while the wicked witch is actually an intelligence operative, and the big bad wolf is really just a perfectly normal human assassin, the tropes and symbolism of many of the Grimm's Fairy Tales play large roles in the movie as we follow the titular character's journey across Europe to meet up with her father. You have the little girl lost, out of her element, and occasionally overwhelmed by the strange reality that no amount of survival training could have prepared her for.. You have her interacting with a villain who does not appear immediately villainous (and who has a fixation with her teeth that went kind of over my head). Finally, you have that fairy tale standard moral of what happens to children who don't listen to their parents.
This is not nearly as action-y as the trailers would have you believe, but what action there is is brutal and well choreographed. Instead of a hundred minutes of Hanna cutting a bloody Kill Bill-esque swath through her enemies, what you have is a fairly intense, and frequently humourous film with a fair bit of heart as well. There is a nice balance between humour and drama in the film that keeps it entertaining, and prevents it from ever becoming too cold or stark.
A lot of the things that I liked about Wright's last directorial outing, "The Soloist” are present again. This is a movie to be experienced more than just seen. While it does not have anywhere near the warmth of that movie, the titular character has a lot of the same sense of wonder as Nathaniel Ayers, when she's not busy killing her enemies anyway.
The only problem with this film is that it does slow down a bit at parts, but usually for a good reason. Some of Marissa's scenes in particular can drag on a bit, but they serve the purpose of developing her character. In a lot of bloody-rampage action films the villains are two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. Alternately, some films spend so much time developing the antagonist that you actually start to feel sorry for them. That's not the case here; there's enough time spent on Marissa to let you know that she is her own person with her own drives and neurosis, but it's all kept vague to keep the focus on the fact that she is also a complete monster.
It's not a cheerful movie ( but how many un-Disneyfied fairy tales are?), but it is humourous and exciting, and I would even say a little bit beautiful. I found myself rooting for Hanna as she tried to come to terms with the fact that there is more to living in the real world than just being able to kill anyone who threatens you, being able to speak a dozen languages, and knowing how many muscles it takes to kiss. Ronan does a great job flipping back and forth between the rather bland and curious Hanna and the cold, calculating killer that will do anything to survive.
If you want a tense, exciting, but still funny movie that doesn't weigh itself down too much with unnecessary details this weekend, then I can't help but recommend “Hanna”. From the acting, to the visual presentation, to the great soundtrack, this is a fantastic movie. In the near future we will probably end up with an over-saturation of teenage girl assassin films, but I think that this will always stand out as one of the better ones.
“Hanna” is in theaters now.