The best thing about director Joe Wright’s 2011 thriller Hanna was the heightened style that Wright brought to the relatively straightforward thriller about a teen assassin taking revenge on the system that created her. The belated series version (premiering Mar. 29 on Amazon), created by original co-writer David Farr, settles for being a basic, competent thriller, and while it’s a serviceable international espionage drama, it doesn’t do much to set itself apart.
The film also provided a breakout role for Saoirse Ronan as the title character, and here Esme Creed-Miles (daughter of Samantha Morton) makes a similarly strong impression as Hanna, who’s spent 16 years being raised in the woods of Poland by her father Erik (Joel Kinnaman, in the role Eric Bana played in the film).
Erik has been training Hanna her entire life to face off against enemies she’s never seen and knows very little about, but he prefers to keep her sheltered and hidden, away from any possible threats. Hanna, however, has normal teenage desires, and she wanders away from their camp to talk to a teenage boy, which puts her back on the radar of the shady quasi-governmental agencies that have been pursuing her.
In particular, CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos, taking over for Cate Blanchett) is obsessed with closing the file on the top secret project she spearheaded years ago, from which Erik liberated Hanna when she was just a baby.
The nature of that project, and the experimentation that has turned Hanna into a sort of teenage super soldier, gets doled out slowly over the course of the series’ first five episodes (out of an eight-episode season), although it’s not hard to guess based on the opening flashback that shows Erik and Hanna’s mother, Johanna (Cold War’s Joanna Kulig), fleeing from Wiegler’s henchmen with the infant Hanna.
The first two episodes largely recapitulate the plot of the movie, including Hanna’s connection with a vacationing British family, and especially fellow teenager Sophie (Rhianne Barreto), whose typical teen girl interests (boys, music, fashion) are both alien and intriguing to Hanna.
Once Farr runs through the plot material of the film (minus the conclusiveness of the ending), though, he doesn’t have anywhere particularly interesting to take the characters or the story. Hanna is, essentially, a superhero, but the show largely downplays her extraordinary abilities in favor of morose pondering on the part of all three lead characters.
Farr also gives Marissa more character development, spending time with her at home with her civilian boyfriend and his bratty young son as she tries to balance the brutal demands of her job with some semblance of a settled, everyday life.
It doesn’t make her more sympathetic, really, even when she’s usurped by an even more ruthless CIA boss in the second half of the season. Wheel-spinning plot developments like this give the impression that the creators don’t have a handle on how to expand the movie’s world, and instead they just drag out the existing narrative elements for an entire TV season.
Hanna spends more time with Sophie and her family, getting a greater taste of ordinary teenage life, and Erik and Marissa spend more time alternately pursuing and fighting each other, robbing the audience of the movie’s satisfying resolution.
Former The Killing co-stars Kinnaman and Enos make for a decent antagonistic pair, although their characters (the principled rogue agent on the run, the cold and calculating company loyalist) are both pretty generic spy drama archetypes. They’re also not nearly as distinctive as Hanna, and the episodes that focus more on Erik and Marissa (and their interchangeable allies) are less engaging than the ones that put Hanna in the spotlight.
Wright is still credited as a consultant, though it’s unclear if he was actively involved in the series in any way. The first few episodes were directed by indie filmmaker Sarah Adina Smith, and she sets a slick but unremarkable style for the rest of the series, not much different from fellow globe-trotting Amazon spy drama Jack Ryan or the dozens of movies and series that have premiered in the wake of the Jason Bourne series.
The often dreamlike tone of the original movie gave the story a fairy tale feel that compensated for both narrative implausibilities and stock espionage elements, and Blanchett played Marissa as a sort of wicked witch figure. Here, there’s nothing below the surface of the plot mechanics, and Marissa is a disappointingly mundane functionary just trying to wrap up loose ends.
There are still suspenseful chase sequences, shoot-outs and close-quarters fights, and it’s still exciting to see the diminutive, quiet Hanna make full use of her abilities and training to take down a bunch of faceless gunmen. But that excitement fades as the season drags on, and Farr reveals how little he’s been able to add to this simple, adaptable premise. Hanna could be the next Buffy or Katniss or Black Widow, but instead she’s just another stone faced spy on the run.