Hanna starts in snow. At first sky and horizon blur in a bright whiteness that is also, oddly and promisingly, somber. The surface you’re seeing is actually water, and on it floats a swan.
The sight is exotic, maybe poetic, and too obviously metaphorical. But it’s subtle compared with what follows, as this swan becomes one of many signs of the girl you’re about to see, the whiter than white Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a youthful 16-year-old with eyebrows so light they’re barely legible on her perfectly—and I mean, perfectly—pale face. But Hanna’s not so pure as her driven surroundings: she’s a trained killer, as well as an expert in multiple languages, weapons systems, and body parts. You won’t be surprised that she’s learned all this from her dad, Erik (Eric Bana). She also copies his vaguely Germanic accent and rustic style of dress—animal skins and hoods and laces to defend against the elements.
That doesn’t mean she’s wholly defended against the world beyond her Finnish winter wonderland. But she’ll head out anyway, because that’s the logic of a film like this, a film preposterous and careless and wholly in love with itself.
Or maybe, in love with Hanna as she represents that self—by turns sweetly childlike and stunningly brutal. Like Mindy in Kick-Ass, Max in Dark Angel, and Nikita in La Femme, she’s a girl designed and/or tutored by unhappy people for lurid purposes, like military brilliance or heartless efficiency. Her father is noticeably unhinged, repeatedly assaulting her in order to assure himself she’s ready to leave home. He’s got his reason and it’s the usual one—revenge.
Targeting his former CIA handler, Marissa (Cate Blanchett), Erik doesn’t quite take the long view—like, what trauma he’s inflicted on Hanna and how this might, you know, shape her going forward. But if it’s disturbing that Erik is using his kid for his own violent ends, it’s not exactly news either. Yes, it would have been nice if he’d prepped Hanna more extensively, say, let her in on a secret called electricity or how the TV isn’t actually sending helicopters to get her… though such instruction would obviate the scenes where she repeatedly turns a light switch on and off, enchanted by the effects, or has to sort out differences between a war movie on TV and the overhead fan she encounters in Morocco. As the camera careens to show her amazement, you’re asked to see her as an innocent, a Bourne-like product of a corrupt system.
Hanna’s abject naïveté is underlined by her affection for Grimm’s fairytales (her fingers trace the drawings in her favorite book) as well as her reaction to a first kiss: the hapless Spanish boy who proffers it ends up splat on the ground with his neck nearly broken. “Should I let him go?” Hanna wonders out loud. “As opposed to what?” answers her new BFF, Sophie (Jessica Barden). As Hanna crouches over her almost prey, Sophie stands in for the regular teenager, interested in tight jeans and pop music and blue eye shadow.
When Sophie’s parents agree to bring Hanna along in their camper as they gallivant through Northern Africa, they can have no idea of the monstrosity they’ve invited into their vacation. Neither can Hanna, though you know Marissa has set her own attack plan in motion when she hires Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a gaudy outlier who prefers intersexed partners and also to “do things,” Marissa says, “my agency won’t let me do.” He and his skinheady minions track down Hanna and torture Sophie’s family. The villains trap Hanna and her new friends in a cargo lot, so she can run between and atop boxcars, a beautifully art-directed and athletic sequence that exemplifies the movie’s inclination to look terrific and go nowhere.
Along with makeup and sisterly advice, Sophie also provides Hanna with a glimpse of what she’s missed. Hanna tells Sophie some things she shouldn’t (like, she’s headed to Berlin to meet up with her dad, a confession that moves the cumbersome plot), but she also shares with her some moments of girly bliss—scoping out the Spanish boys, riding on the backs of their bikes, making fun of Sophie’s folks, Hanna is charmed. Their intimacy is lovely and a little lascivious (their kiss is partly experimental, partly portentous, and rendered in a series of oppressive close-ups), but the movie doesn’t have much time for girls as such. It reverts almost instantly to its focus on Hanna as the object of fanboys’ lust, lethal and lithe and pounding her opponents under a score by the Chemical Brothers.
Hanna’s designed to be this way, which leaves her blameless. Not so Marissa, whose causal background is mostly unknown. What you do know is that she’s determined to get Erik and Hanna, that she’s obsessive (she cleans her teeth until her gums bleed), and that she has no children of her own. When one of her victims makes note of this last, the scene cuts to Marissa behind her big monogrammed handgun, aimed directly at the offender and you too, by way of the point-of-view camera.
She’s a barren, hard-hearted bitch, all right. But, per her too obviously metaphorical role in this fairy tale, Marissa’s also Hanna’s very, very bad mom. By the time they face off in an abandoned Grimm’s theme park, they’re surrounded by swan boats and plaster toadstools (as well as a graveyard of broken dinosaurs, though it’s not clear what these have to do with the park’s theme). Hanna doesn’t even blink when Marissa emerges from a tunnel shaped like a wolf’s mouth, framed by giant vagina-dentata-ed teeth. But you might sigh.