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Tracking a Teenage Mutant Ninja in Hanna

Tracking a Teenage Mutant Ninja in <i>Hanna</i>
John MacConnell

The era of the teenage action heroine is fully upon us. As pop-cultural correctives go, it’s a mixed blessing. In one corner, you’ve got the jailbait fantasies of Donkey Punch and Kick Ass, which eagerly trade on notions of naughty girliness rather than transcend or interrogate them. In the other, you’ve got True Grit and now Joe Wright’s Hanna, mainstream Hollywood adventure films that refrain from sexualizing or gender delimiting their young female protagonists. While the Coen brothers revisited a classic Western, Wright tells a tech-savvy fairy tale, complete with a wicked witch, uncertain parentage, and chopsocky mixed martial arts. Yet despite its 21st-century trappings and proto-feminist protagonist, Hanna strangely reverts to reactionary politics as usual.

When we first meet 16-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, a Tilda Swinton in training who traffics in translucent skin and opaque emotions), she’s a fierce huntress and winter warrior, disemboweling woodland beasts in between staged fisticuffs with her bearded and be-furred father, Erik (Eric Bana, a reliably soulful slice of beefcake). Stuck in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere, she knows nothing of the larger world except for whatever paranoid Papa has taught her. Since even homeschooled ninjas have to grow up, Erik concedes to unearthing a long-hidden device that, if activated, will alert civilization—including avenging CIA operative Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett)—of their whereabouts. Hanna chooses the inevitable, prompting Erik to shave and flee in a pinstriped three-piece suit while special ops abduct his daughter. But it doesn’t take Hanna long to escape a tricked-out underground lair, snapping necks, bludgeoning faces, and embarking on a grim journey of self-discovery and self-defensive homicide.

After three well-behaved dramas—Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist—Wright emerges as a surprisingly nimble action director. Rather than sloppily machine-gunning shots in the current Hollywood style, Wright prefers spacial continuity and a crisp, Kubrickian frame. For Hanna’s breakneck subterranean emergence, texture and tension are created not through Ginsu editing but sculptural, strobe-like overhead lighting, as in an Exploding Plastic Inevitable show or a Mazda commercial. In one knockout stand-alone sequence, Wright tracks Bana and a mysterious follower into and out of a train depot, across a plaza, and down a metro escalator before Bana dispatches four marauding goons, all in one elegant long take.

ARTIST: John MacConnell specializes in action illustration. See the running, jumping, ducking, and exploding at johnmacconnell.com, or follow the action at johnmacconnell.blogspot.com.
John MacConnell
ARTIST: John MacConnell specializes in action illustration. See the running, jumping, ducking, and exploding at johnmacconnell.com, or follow the action at johnmacconnell.blogspot.com.

But it’s telling that such virtuosity is inconsequential to the larger story. Despite its handsome presentation and cinematic ingenuity, the film never really goes beyond superficial pleasures. Hanna’s origin story isn’t revealed until the end (via a supremely anti-dramatic Wikipedia search, no less), which keeps her estranged from us as well as from herself; whenever the disarmingly poised Ronan manages to narrow the gap, she’s briskly undone by yet another blippy Chemical Brothers–scored chase sequence. But better to march forth than dwell on the dubious conservatism that undergirds Wright’s tale. Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a baddie recruited to hunt down Hanna, is evil embodied as deviant gay Eurotrash, complete with bleached-blond hair, brightly colored tracksuits, short-shorts, and loafers worn lightly. And though Blanchett is a riot as a Nordstrom-attired, Southern-drawled Brunhilde with scarlet helmet hair and aggressively white teeth, what ultimately makes her so harrowing—and so worthy of punishment—is her childlessness. “I made certain choices,” Marissa says, desperately justifying her careerism, before she buries a bullet in a womb-sanctified old matriarch. Hanna is the one that got away and a genetically enhanced reminder of the miserable fate that awaits the ambitious, the infertile, the dentally preoccupied.

Wright piles on the fairy-tale signifiers for a Berlin-set finale, from a dingy gingerbread house and Big Bad Wolf amusement ride to witchy Marissa’s screeching demise. In terms of craft and invention, Hanna has more going for it than most Hollywood genre films, but its achievements only magnify disappointment when it all builds to nothing more than a callback catchphrase. “I just missed your heart,” Hanna says to her first and final conquests. Missed mine, too, if only just.

 
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8 comments
cathie joy young
cathie joy young

Saw it last night. Cate Blanchet nearly ruined it for me with her terrible American accent. Worst role I have ever seen her in. Ronan on the other hand, was magical.

Kakosg
Kakosg

I thought it akin to voyeuristic child porn, mixing the pretty, fresh virgin with violence and blood. Very creepy.

Laraconteuse32
Laraconteuse32

I see Marissa's childlessness more as part of a rewriting of Frankenstein--this time, with a female scientist and a female creature. Like Victor, Marissa's preoccupation with being a sole creator and with unnatural creation prevents her from having children, not just her investment in a career. The reason her interactions with Hanna, the one being who might be considered her progeny, are predatory, is that she made the "certain choice" to destroy that research, as Victor tries to destroy his Creature, turning it against him. Marissa isn't wicked because she's not a mother; she's not a mother because she chose to destroy her offspring.

I admit that the frankly irritating band of German psychopaths was a little irritating-- and if Hanna's sixteen, she was born in 1994, so the Cold War or even WWII era stock villains are passe. Seriously, creating the perfect soldier via genetic engineering...in /Germany/?

Overall, though, I don't see the politics as reactionary-- if anything, perhaps Marissa's childlessness springs from a pang of guilt over the children she killed. That we can now see the Frankenstein archetypes both filled by women, especially since the original tale can be read as a man's attempted substitution of science for traditional reproduction with a woman, and thereby a theft of female power (see Anne K. Mellor on this), is progressive. After all, in modern science, it's men who have might be superfluous, since we would require an egg and a womb, but not sperm, for human cloning.

See http://thebrightgeist.wordpres... for a more in-depth description of the Frankenstein comparison.

Gerald
Gerald

We just saw the movie. It was a choice between this and Scream 4. We made the right choice, I think. The movie was entertaining and the storyline kept my interest. Cate Blanchett makes a wonderful villainess. Highly recommend for anyone to see it.

Buddy
Buddy

I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment on the film's 'dubious conservatism' or 'reactionary politics as usual' (although those wouldn't be the first phrases to come to mind regarding a film featuring a young European-raised heroine being tracked down by the CIA) . I can say with confidence however that, besides taking offense to the gayness of the villian, your review does nothing to substantiate those claims. Which leads me to the opinion that you were looking for a reason not to like this, and played the old lefty card which would presumably ingratiate you with the average Voice reader.

sunnyblack76
sunnyblack76

The problem was the movie's conservatism?? Idiot. The movie was littered with anti-Americanism. If anything the movie was playing on cliches about liberal 'humanism'.

skycaptainshell
skycaptainshell

Nicely written, and I'm guessing you mean Sucker Punch.

Sinatra2525
Sinatra2525

How so? (Seriously asking - coz I didn't see that)

 

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