Saturday, 14 May 2011

It's Grimm Up North [Review: Hanna]

Some films entice you in with awesome sequel promises, then disappoint with boring originality. Catfish is not the sequel to Sharktopus. The same goes for Donkey Punch and Sucker Punch, or Tron:Legacy and Tron. Miley Cyrus fans may experience similar disappointment at the opening of Joe Wright's film Hanna: is this tale of an albino child being raised by a rogue CIA agent as a warrior in the Arctic Circle as distant from Disney's popstar-alter-ego fairytale as you can get?

Maybe not quite so distant. Hanna's training leaves her unfulfilled and lonely: she wants to know what music feels like and, it turns out, her long-deceased mother was a talented singer. After her recapture and escape from a CIA base she befriends another tweenager and before the abandoned theme-park finale (all films should end in an abandoned theme-park) there are plenty of familiar pre-teen angst moments: awkward friendships, trust and secrets, almost killing boys who try to kiss you, skinning rabbits for breakfast and so on.

The deer's heart of this film is ripped from European fairytale, and of course this is a Grimm rather than Disney retelling with plenty of grue. Hanna (Saoirse, pronounced "K-ai-t," Ronan) is by turns Snow White, the Ugly Duckling or Red Riding Hood, while CIA handler Marissa Vigler (Cate Blanchett) is the wicked stepmother and Erik Heller (Eric Bana) the kind-hearted huntsman. It is this fairytale layer that turns Hanna from just another spy vs spy thriller into something much more captivating.

However there are other influences too. Hanna has a tendency to spout definitions like a walking Wikipedia: this was a central theme of my 2009 Sci-Fi London short Too Much Too Soon and I'm big hearted enough to take this as a tribute rather than any kind of plagiarism. Thanks Joe!*

Erik and Hanna reminded me of Kick-Ass superheroes Big Daddy and Hit Girl. While the question is the same - is there a scared child inside the trained killer? But Hanna's identity is defined by her origins, training and mission - she is the bullet.

The film relies heavily on national stereotyping - the Brit tourists that Hanna befriends will be familiar if you've ever come across the Modern Parents strip in Viz and are the funniest Brit stereotype I've seen for a long time, even including The King's Speech. The German stereotyping of the agents on Hanna's trail is more painful, although in dramatic terms they are portrayed as efficient and emotionless team players rather than bungling or argumentative crooks - so at least make a credible threat. Vigler's accent? American reviewers should drawl their own conclusions.

*this paragraph flagged for irony moderation


Conor said...

Just stumbled on your site and wanted to say hello. I like your Hanna review a lot. Pretty spot on. It's good to see other sci fi blog out there. I will keep up with your posts.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Thanks for the comment Conor and good luck with your own projects. I assure you there's no shortage of sci-fi blogs...