As the old saying goes, there isn’t much to “Hanna,” but what there is, is choice. Joe Wright’s movie about an adolescent girl, secretly trained by her father in the most extreme forms of self-defense, who goes out into the world to kill a wicked-witch CIA agent, only to find herself the quarry rather than the hunter, is little more than an action exercise. But it’s an extraordinarily skillful one, a well-oiled machine that delivers an adrenaline rush of the first order. A pity that it’s not as much fun as “Kick-Ass” was; what humor there is comes from supporting characters, especially Cate Blanchett’s agent, who puts Cruella De Vil to shame, and Jessica Barden as Sophie, a sharp-tongued Brit teen whose family Hanna tags along with for a time.
The script situates the story of Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), who combines an angelic appearance with ferocious combat ability, in visuals that suggest the trappings of a fairy-tale. (That motif will be taken up later as well, in sequences set in the so-called Grimm House where one of her contacts lives, in the middle of a deserted amusement park.) She’s first seen in a remote, wintry area where she lives with her widowed father Erik (Eric Bana) in a cabin hidden by dense forest, testing her skills by hunting deer and dealing with dad when he confronts her himself. Hanna has decided it’s time for her to confront the wider world—and especially Marissa (Blanchett), the woman Erik has told her killed her mother and remains a dangerous enemy. So the duo separate, agreeing to reunite in Berlin. Being Erik leaves, they set off an alarm that will bring Marissa to their doorstep and Hanna is captured after dispatching a goodly number of the special force soldiers sent against her. Her intent is to confront Marissa in person.
It wouldn’t be cricket to reveal too much about what happens after this original set-up—or the truth that’s eventually revealed about Hanna. Suffice it to say that she escapes from Marissa, only to find herself in the African desert. Making her way across the sands and learning about real life in the process, she eventually makes friends with Sophie, an aggressive kid who introduces her to young men (among other things), and travels with her family to Spain. But the resourceful Marissa responds by engaging a creepy operative named Isaacs (Tom Hollander) to track her down while she herself goes after Erik. After lots of chases, fights and gun battles, as well as quite a few deaths, the final confrontations occur.
There’s a lot of the “Millennium” trilogy’s vibe in the movie. Like those books and movies, it celebrates a strong, self-reliant girl who kicks butt with the best of them—a pint-sized “Salt,” if you will. Ronan handles the demands of the part—both physical and emotional—well, confirming her status as one of the most talented young actresses around today. And in Blanchett’s steely, impeccably dressed Marissa (her obsession with flossing is a particularly gruesome touch) and Hollander’s whistling monster Isaacs (with his flamboyant outfits) she’s faced with a couple of colorful villains that would have made James Bond uneasy. By contrast Bana plays things perfectly straight, but he has a couple of action set-pieces that will set the blood racing as effectively as Ronan’s do.
All the mayhem is exceptionally well delivered by Wright and his cast (along with, one suspects, a small army of stunt persons). The images are given a sleek, almost metallic quality by cinematographer Alwin Kuechler, and editor Paul Tothill maintains a skillful balance between the action moments and the more sedate, but still suspenseful sequences. And the score by the Chemical Brothers is distinctive without calling too much attention to itself.
“Hanna” is self-contained, but one can imagine it spawning a sequel—if its cool, detached style connects with viewers. One hopes it will, but also that any future installment might aim for the heart as well as the eye.