Movie review by Greg Carlson

To call “Hanna” superior to “Sucker Punch” is to damn it with faint praise, though both movies use young females as agents of death, and mean to thrill viewers at the sight of much onscreen mayhem and hand-to-hand combat. The otherwise innocent heroines who headline these features walk the tightrope between prurient eye candy and quasi-empowered changelings. To be sure, Saoirse Ronan is not sexualized with pigtails and schoolgirl uniforms, but “Hanna” acknowledges the child/adult edge – and the notion of a young girl tutored in the art of murder by a father or father figure – previously explored in “Leon: The Professional” and less successfully, “Kick-Ass.”

Growing up in a remote Finnish cabin with caring but haunted dad and CIA “rogue” Erik Heller (Eric Bana, who gets to wear animal skins and business suits, depending on the requirements of the scene), Hanna has been trained from birth in the practices of self-defense and survivalism. The onset of puberty triggers restlessness in the young woman, and papa digs up a signal transmission device that once activated will guide an army of assassins to the front door. The “why” and the “what” are mere prelude to the “how,” although one certainly marvels that any sane human being would flip a switch telling your enemies your exact whereabouts.

Throughout the movie, Wright struggles to find a consistent tone, bouncing between sober reminders that Hanna has been robbed of normal childhood development and tongue-in-cheek showdowns with skinhead goons that send up and celebrate the genre. The introduction of the permissive, vacationing family led by Olivia Williams milks all kinds of comic relief from the brash mouth of saucy daughter Jessica Barden, nearly reprising her role from “Tamara Drewe,” but Wright scarcely knows what to do when the nuclear unit is left to be tortured at the hands of vicious Eurotrash creep Isaacs (Tom Hollander).

Not that it matters much, but Isaacs is enlisted by the sinister Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), the symbolic wicked stepmother to Hanna’s Cinderella/Little Mermaid/Gretel mash-up. Often happy to embrace the “more is more” school of character construction, Blanchett puts on Armani suits, a severe crimson coiffure, and a ridiculous drawl to complete the portrait of her evil CIA operative, whose desire to kill the Hellers is only matched by her gum-bloodying obsession with oral hygiene.

With its hipster-friendly title design and Chemical Brothers soundtrack, “Hanna” yearns to break its adolescent heroine out of the action movie’s traditional – maybe even old fashioned – constraints, but Wright heartily subscribes to the “Bourne” template established by Doug Liman’s 2002 Ludlum adaptation. Production designer Sarah Greenwood stuffs the frame with as many Brothers Grimm references as possible while Hanna catapults through the colorful international locations en route to learning her origin story.

Frustratingly, “Hanna” alludes to a richer inner life for its title character than the movie provides, and the flimsy soap opera turnabout that casts doubts on our girl’s paternity is disappointingly resolved with a stultifying and tedious computer search montage wholly unworthy of the protagonist. Only slightly better is the climactic derelict amusement park confrontation in which Wiegler emerges from the toothy maw of a fiberglass big bad wolf to do battle with Hanna.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 4/18/11.

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