‘Hanna,’ released in 2011, was not a film that called out for a remake or a sequel. It had a singular style, and a delicacy — despite its frequent beatdowns and gunbattles — that would suffer from duplication. Bookended by parallel killings, it was a self-contained chronicle of an obsessive and successful quest for revenge that left no important questions unanswered.
So of course there’s a new ‘Hanna,’ a series created for Amazon Prime Video by one of the film’s screenwriters (David Farr) with the film’s director (Joe Wright) as a consultant. It tells a story similar in outline to the one in the movie: Hanna, a genetically altered teenage girl raised in the forest and trained for battle by the gruff father figure Erik, goes out into the world to confront Marissa, the wicked witch-CIA agent-evil stepmother who created her. Except now it’s close to eight hours long instead of two.
Like its heroine, the series is an exercise in modification — how to quadruple a story’s length as well as leave it open-ended. And as with Hanna herself, the results are mixed: mostly sad, with a glimmer of hope at the end.
One of Farr’s primary strategies (he wrote seven of the series’ eight episodes) is to jettison the original’s most distinctive feature. The film told a fairly conventional action story in the style of a fairy tale, with explicit references to the Brothers Grimm to drive the point home, and Wright had the technique and sensibility to make it work. The characters functioned as both action-movie conventions and mythical heroes and monsters. The story moved through fantastic (but real) landscapes by a fairy-tale logic, and the viewer shared Hanna’s wonder at the beauty and corruption of the world she’d been sequestered from.
In the series, the Grimms are gone, and Hanna (played by young British actress Esme Creed-Miles) is less magical heroine and more angtsy teenage supersoldier — la femme Nikita without the clingy dresses. The heroes are less heroic and the baddies less monstrous, and their back stories are expanded in ways that make them more “complex” but no more interesting. The mysteries of Hanna’s past are explored in much greater detail, while the sense of mystery never quite takes hold.
The literalisation of the story for streaming-series purposes is encapsulated in the new opening, a long, expository chase scene that was a brief flashback in the film. Another crucial change in the first episode, discreetly slipped into the dialogue, recasts the entire plot, changing the motive for Hanna’s mission from revenge to survival — a switch that lowers the intensity but opens the door for complications, digressions and future seasons.
A more prosaic ‘Hanna’ could certainly succeed on its own terms in the crowded field of action-oriented conspiracy thriller. The bigger problem, though, is that most of what Farr has added to pad out the story is drab filler: marital strife in the normal family that shelters Hanna, Marissa’s problems with work-life balance, boyfriend tensions between Hanna and her pal Sophie. (Rhianne Barreto, as the angry Sophie, gives the show’s most energetic and engaging performance.) The series is filled with all the things that Wright, in the film, proved the story could do without.
Beating ‘Hanna’ the series with the stick of ‘Hanna’ the film would be less fair if the series didn’t, through about six episodes, hew so closely to the framework of the movie. And you can’t really address the subject without noting the perfect casting in the original of Saoirse Ronan as Hanna, with her ability to be both ethereal and feral, dreamlike and convincingly physical. Creed-Miles, by comparison, is, well, a good soldier. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, as Marissa and Erik, work hard in roles that have been glummed down from what Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana played in the original.
If you stick with Amazon’s ‘Hanna,’ its energy and interest (if not originality) tick up in the last couple episodes, when the story definitively moves beyond that of the movie and capitalises on a couple of plot possibilities that the film closed off or glossed over. Yasmin Monet Prince, a striking British actress with a very short list of screen credits, turns up as a character you wish had been around for the previous six hours. Suddenly it feels like you’re in a fairy tale again.
Hanna is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.