Esmé Creed-Miles
Photo: Chris McLaughlin (Amazon Studios)
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Joe Wright’s Hanna was released in 2011, just preceding the boomlet in all tales Strong Female Protagonist ushered in by The Hunger Games one year later. In some ways, this damned the movie to a pseudo-obscurity: Though it follows a teenage girl infused with super-soldier DNA in utero, raised in isolation by the heavy-hearted ex-CIA operative who saved her from a nefarious super-soldier program, as she grows up and demands a real life in the real world, it never seemed to breach the cultural consciousness as other girl-powered fare since, like The Hunger Games flicks, Supergirl, or Stranger Things seemed to. This is a pity: Hanna is a darkly punkish version of a Grimm’s fairy tale, where Little Red Riding Hood takes her father’s hunting knife and slits the Big Bad Wolf’s throat. So, when Amazon Prime announced that it was producing a TV version of Hanna, one helmed by the movie’s co-writer, David Farr, it seemed like a ripe opportunity to expand the Hanna-verse, or at least, make it relevant enough to assume its rightful place in the grand pantheon of lady badasses.

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The series may expand the central premise of the movie over eight episodes, but, unfortunately, it does precious little to make the story seem more relevant or even particularly interesting. Hanna the series holds on to the central premise of father and daughter in their own kind of arctic idyll, spending their days hunting and training for a day of discovery that Erik Heller (Joel Kinnaman) hopes will never come but fifteen-year-old Hanna (Esmé Creed-Miles) increasingly longs for. The sudden presence of loggers, especially a handsome one roughly her age, piques Hanna’s interests—and catalyzes a manhunt led by Marissa Wiegler (Mirelle Enos), the former head of the clandestine super-soldier program. It’s a taut, emotionally fraught premise—Erik and Hanna must part ways on the run, leaving the girl all alone in a world she’s not at all prepared for, beyond an uncanny precision with an axe-kick and a .9mm—that the show bogs down in bloat. Farr and his team try to graft a conventional spy procedural, complete with old teams getting back together for one last job, midnight renditions, and double-crosses upon double-crosses, with a gritty Bildungsroman and a tender father-daughter tale.

Sifting through that hodgepodge of tones becomes incredibly tedious, because it’s clear that the creative team is more interested in certain storylines than others—and, in the process, squanders some compelling performances. Though the show is ostensibly driven by Hanna’s desire for independence—a desire that should feel alternately aching and awkward, savage with need and piercingly poignant—it reduces that desire to a few rote scenes of Hanna and her new friend Sophie (Rhianne Barreto) laughing in a photo booth, getting tipsy and dancing at a club and a house party, and cavorting with boys on a beach.

These scenes feel flat, perfunctory; they lack the strange alchemy of girlhood, that sense of menace and potential, that they need to feel truly evocative and meaningful. Barreto is a vivid, vivacious performer, vesting Sophie with a gentle knowingness and girlish intensity that makes her an ideal companion for Creed-Miles’ quasi-feral naïf. But the scripts simply don’t give Creed-Miles enough to fashion a real character—her performance feels bland and inhibited, as if she can only modulate between open wonderment, bad-ass determination, and teenage petulance.

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Joel Kinnaman
Photo: Chris McLaughlin (Amazon Studios)

She may be the titular character, but Hanna feels more like an afterthought in her own series, a plot device to bring Erik and Marissa back into each other’s arctic orbit. Ironically, Erik and Marisa are the most compelling components of the show: Kinnaman and Enos have an indelible chemistry, and they so fully inhabit their characters that one forgets their earlier pairing on The Killing. Kinnaman evinces the ex-commando’s physicality, poised and ever-alert with a kind of animal innateness, while still conveying a profound world-weariness and tentative hope for redemption. He expresses vast fathoms of regret simply by tightening his mouth, reveals the fear and ferocity of his love for Hanna by widening his eyes—one could argue he’d have made one of the all-time great silent screen stars.

Enos’ Marissa is arguably a more complex version of her big-screen incarnation—instead of Cate Blanchett’s delightfully voracious She-Wolf, this Marissa has settled into discontented middle management and strained domesticity. Enos is particularly good in a scene where her partner’s young son, who has held a seething disdain for her, outright rejects her: She allows just enough of Marissa’s heartache to seep through her cracked, pained expression, that silent fear that she will never be better than the worst things she’s ever done “in the line of duty”—then steels her face in that same cold stoicism that carried her to the top of her dark profession. The few scenes she and Kinnaman share crackle and hum with the static of their shared sins. It’s a pity that, then, they’re shoehorned into this baggy, addlepated eight hours. They deserve a proper spy thriller or film noir.

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Hanna the movie is an underappreciated spiritual sister to all the brave girl-centric stories that followed it, perhaps because it was so wild and wooly and so wholly enamored of its own vision. It’s an unfortunate irony that the TV series that shares its name, and the basic architecture of its plot, should feel so tepid and cursory, so very much like all the action-lady knock-offs glutting our screens for years now. Of course, any work of art shouldn’t have to consistently justify its own existence—and yet, one can’t help but wonder why Farr and co. weren’t content enough to let their story reside in its better version, a version that will mewl and snarl, kiss your neck and sink its fangs into your throat.