TV Review: Amazon’s Hanna Drains the Fairy Tale Appeal From Its Source Material

(Editor’s note: The following review covers the complete eight episodes of Hanna‘s first season.)

The Pitch: Ex-CIA operative Eric Heller (Joel KinnamanAltered Carbon) lives out in the woods with his daughter Hanna (Esme Creed-Miles), training her to fight and keeping her in hiding from mysterious forces that would seek to take her away from him. After Eric’s former handlers finally track them down, led by off-book CIA agent Marissa Weigler (Mirielle Enos), Hanna is separated from her father, leading her on a quest to not only evade her captors and learn about the outside world, but to discern her true origins.

A Grim Fairy Tale: Adapted from the 2011 Joe Wright film of the same name, Amazon’s latest comes from a strong pedigree. Unfortunately, while the Wright film was a bold, idiosyncratic remix of Little Red Riding Hood for the Bourne Identity set, Amazon’s Hanna strips away that film’s fairy-tale affectations and zeroes in on the machinations of shadowy military forces, research facilities, and internecine conflicts within warring intelligence agencies. More than a little is lost in translation along the way; without Wright’s charming literalism — film Marissa is visually linked to the Big Bad Wolf in lip-smackingly direct ways, right down to framing her within the jaws of a wolf-shaped amusement park tunnel — those quirky edges feel dulled from Hanna the series.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t more than one way to skin a cat (or wolf, in this case), but showrunner David Farr, who co-wrote the original film, replaces Wright’s arch presentation with the gruff seriousness of a dimly-lit Scandinavian drama. Dana Gonzales’ desaturated, dusky cinematography creates some startling images at times, and the action sequences are claustrophobic and exciting, but half the time the light is so low that it’s difficult to make out what’s going on. There are exceptions to this, of course — Hanna’s flirtation with a normal life comes in the form of her relationship with fellow teen Sophie (Rhianne Barreto) and her ordinary, middle-class family, their adventures in Morocco bright and floral. But then the show jumps to yet another smoky conference room or interrogation chamber. Composers Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow, known for their artfully minimalist compositions for arthouse sci-fi like Ex Machina or Annihilation, do yeoman’s work in terms of bringing some kind of momentum to the frequently stiff drama.

The Princess and the P-90: While the magic may be largely missing from Amazon’s Hanna, the fact that a good deal of it still works is a credit to the show’s star, newcomer Esme Creed-Miles. When the show sees fit to actually focus on Hanna, Creed-Miles is astounding to watch, capturing the Nell-meets-Black Widow energy required of such an unconventional action heroine. With her long, taupe locks and clipped Danish accent, Hanna’s often a stranger in a strange land, and Creed-Miles is best served when Hanna lets its title character stretch her legs and toy with the idea of normalcy. Her chemistry with Barreto is lovely, hearkening back to the Eleven-Mike dynamic from Stranger Things — a lost girl getting a glimpse of the blissfully normal life that her nature prevents her from having.

Of course, this is ultimately an action show, and Creed-Miles bounds into the combat setpieces with gleeful aplomb. Sprinting, kicking, and headlocking her way through dozens of baddies by series’ end, Hanna does manage to deliver the goods when it lets its protagonist off the leash. They may arrive too few and far between throughout the show’s eight hour-long episodes, but those action sequences serve as effective islands in a sea of spy-film tedium.

The Big, Bloated Wolf: Speaking of which, Hanna‘s greatest weakness is its length — even cutting down to eight episodes, the series is a bit of a slog to get through. There may well be a way to make a show of this type of terse spycraft, but Farr’s focus seems split into too many camps: coming-of-age story, action film, spy thriller, science fiction, etc. While the show is meant to be Hanna’s story, just as much time is spent on Eric and Weigler’s respective character arcs; Kinnaman and Enos were the leads on AMC’s remake of The Killing, a show from which Hanna takes numerous stylistic cues. While that’s respectable in theory — Enos certainly makes the most of her material as a manipulative government agent battling for control over her own project — Kinnaman’s role weighs down the proceedings, especially when it starts to overshadow the titular character. Instead of Hanna telling a bloody fairy tale about a woman finding her own agency and defying the people who created her, the show occasionally turns Hanna into more of a plot point, which is disappointing.

Hanna also falls victim to the same sense of bloat that plagues a lot of direct-to-streaming shows, sending its characters through a cyclical churn of captivity and escape, stopping only for brief character moments for Hanna to learn something about their past or Weigler to sit down with another similar-looking suit to talk about collateral damage and whisper about mysterious research facilities. Where Hanna comes from, and why she is the way she is, is a disappointing focus of the show’s latter half; while it introduces some new characters at the 11th hour who provide an interesting contrast to Hanna’s own nature, it’s difficult for the audience to care about the same cadre of government fixers and mincing genetic scientists (even when they’re played by Noah Taylor) we’ve seen a million times before. Like Hanna herself, the show should be looking forward to the life she could be having, instead of leaning into a reveal so obvious that the show actually opens with it.

The Verdict: It’s a shame to keep comparing Amazon’s grittier take on Hanna with the fairy-tale majesty of the Joe Wright original, but Farr’s series-length version simply lacks the personality of its initial incarnation. Gone are the caterwauling camera moves, the wailing sirens of The Chemical Brothers’ droning industrial score, the arch turns by Cate Blanchett and Tom Hollander, all replaced by a watered-down riff on Killing Eve. There are charms to be had — Creed-Miles is a capable stand-in for Saoirse Ronan, and Enos gets a great deal more to do as her role expands — but the series’ languid pace huffs and puffs without blowing the house down.

Where’s It Playing?: Hanna parkours her way through waves of gun-toting bad guys to land on Amazon beginning Friday, March 29th.

Trailer:

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