Look, we’re stuck in a tidal wave of reboots, relaunches, revivals, and remakes. That’s not going to change anytime soon. We can either grumble about this inevitability or pick through the offerings to see what’s worthy of binge-watching, but it is a pop-culture truth that such projects must be prepared to defend their own existence. They should offer something substantially different than the original, or at least be compelling, especially when we’re talking about one of 500 or so TV series that drop seasons in any given year. In the case of Amazon’s Hanna, which adapts Joe Wright’s 2011 film (starring Saoirse Ronan and Eric Bana) for the small screen (now with Esme Creed-Miles and Joel Kinnaman), reasons do exist, but they might not be enough to justify why this project was greenlit as an 8-part first season.
Don’t get me wrong. Hanna is a decent watch and beautiful to look at. Yet it would be better if one goes in without having watched the original because, sadly, the film will alter your perception of the adaptation. So, you’d probably enjoy this series more if you haven’t been exposed to the movie. One can also simply accept the series — and the YA crowd might like this because they may not have seen the film — as a coming-of-age tale that showcases rites of passage in the modern world. Those include the following for our heroine:
(1) Enjoying a Snickers bar for the first time;
(2) Experiencing awkward courtship rituals;
(3) Slugging some vodka while witnessing absurd mating behavior;
(4) Learning that it’s not okay to shoot up a train station.
This sounds kinda normal on its face, I realize. Well, other than the fourth item, but one also has to consider that Hanna has been raised in the wilderness by her dad, Erik, to be nothing but a killing machine.
To that end, the series begins as a largely beat-by-beat repeat of the film. Dad teaches Hanna to fight, but there aren’t many warm and fuzzy moments that feel tangible and believable. This version of Erik (who’s more brutal than his big-screen counterpart) shows that he cares in odd ways, like letting his daughter choke him out in a fight (awww). Dad’s got a means to the end, for he’s been sheltering her in the forest and raising her for an ultimate showdown with an off-book CIA agent (Mireille Enos, taking over for Cate Blanchett). Clearly, Hanna’s an asset of interest and has been since birth, but she has no inkling of her true identity. There’s a lot of intrigue here, but nothing that exceeds that of the film, so we have to draw comparisons now.
If one boils down the biggest difference between the film and the series, it’s easy to see why I feel hesitant to recommend this as a binge watch. It all comes down to structure, really. The film, although shockingly both kickass and lovely, wasn’t perfect. In fact, it was filled with plot holes, but it was fashioned almost as a fable with plenty of ethereal, fairy-tale-like elements. So, it really didn’t have to be believable at all to be embraced, whereas Amazon’s series aims for a somewhat gritty and more realistic air, along with conspiracy-fueled, spy-thriller vibes. It’s also much more expansive, obviously, given that there’s a longer runtime. Sadly, though, all of this realism and room for growth means that the show can be picked apart much easier than the film. As such, it becomes apparent at around the first half of the season that the series’ logic falters — without the forgiving, interpret-as-you-will air of Wright’s film.
Where it goes from there doesn’t justify the expanded runtime, which is a shame considering the talent involved. Esme Miles-Creed is destined for some good sh*t. She’s the daughter of Samantha Morton, who’s currently raising hell on AMC’s The Walking Dead. I would normally refrain from comparing her to mom, but my god, Esme is as good at saying a lot while saying nothing as her mother was in Morvern Callar (an artsy-fartsy Lynne Ramsay movie that I will defend to my dying breath, so fight me). This young woman completely sells her role as written, all defiant glances and panicked-yet-controlled springing into action, as she copes and processes with the wild world that’s swirling around her. Kinnaman, as her fierce father, is as solid as always. Erik’s thinking several steps ahead, but we don’t always know his motivations. That’s a credit to Kinnaman’s performance more than how his role has been adapted.
Both actors also clearly put a lot of sweat into training for these roles. I understand (from the press notes) that Kinneman favored martial arts whereas Esme focused a lot on yoga to prepare for fight scenes, and it shows. Her version of Hanna is almost feral and clearly thinks more about how her body travels to certain postures than where she’s landing. It’s rad, even if I don’t comprehend why her character’s punching trees or eschewing gloves in the Polish wilderness. Joel Kinnaman’s Erik is an odder cat than in the movie. He’s actually kind of a dick at times, but I guess that’s a realistic part of training a mini-assassin outside of a cushy, gym-based environment. (It’s comparable to Rocky Balboa making Adonis throw giant tires around in the desert in Creed 2, only without all the built-in goodwill of those endlessly beloved Rocky movies.)
Again, Hanna is more than alright for a high-concept thriller series. Does it succeed enough to justify a remake in a crowded streaming marketplace? That’s tougher to nail down. The main selling point, I guess, is that Hanna isn’t an indestructible superhero, so she’s definitely rare in that regard. She’s flawed and vulnerable and rebellious and has no idea how to behave in a civilized way in some settings. Why are boys looking at her in a club, for example? Such scenarios carry the potential to capture a younger audience, but those viewers are also used to watching franchises with more heart and a collective purpose, like The Hunger Games. Here, it’s mostly Hanna rebelling without a cause until several episodes into the series. She scorches through blazingly hot action scenes, and Esme Creed-Miles does so serviceably well. However, Hanna never substantially travels further than Joe Wright’s film and, in doing so, the series never fully justifies its own existence.
‘Hanna’ debuts on Amazon on March 29.