Thursday, April 18, 2024

Hanna Blends Bourne with Coming of Age

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Never let anyone tell you movie theater advertising doesn’t work! A common staple of my early arrivals at the theater lately has been behind-the-scenes features about Hanna. It certainly caught my interest, as you can see by my being here to tell you about it. A show about a badass teen girl and her father hiding from government agents, featuring brutal fight scenes? I’m down. It’s at least worth a watch, I’d think?

Let me say now that I’ve never seen the 2011 movie this show is based on. I have seen the dissatisfaction from fans of the movie, though obviously I don’t quite understand since I don’t know what they’re talking about and I’m trying not to spoil it before I end up watching it. I can’t offer an opinion on it from that point-of-view. So is this teen-girl Jason Bourne story worth the watch? Let’s talk about it!

Quick summary; Hanna is about an appropriately-named girl whose mother gave her up to a secret CIA program experimenting on numerous other babies. She’s rescued soon after birth by the man responsible for convincing mothers to give up their children, after her own mother has regrets and convinces him. They succeed, but the mother dies during the escape. Hanna and her new guardian spend the next 15 years hiding in a forest and preparing for the day the CIA finds them.

And so we have a show!

Hanna does a lot of things right. The acting is solid across the board. The fight scenes are cool. Quite a few questions linger in the background of the plot, but for the most part things move along logically. It’s a well-made show, no question.

Hanna herself is a compelling main character that I found easy to root for. Many TV shows have a hard time writing teen girls, especially in shows not specifically about the everyday life of said teen girls. They’re the buzzkill, or they’re special in a way that takes shots at other teens, or distract from the main plot. You don’t usually end up with a Paige Jennings. You end up with a Meadow Soprano.

Thankfully, Hanna avoids this problem. Hanna is intelligent, adaptable, stubborn, curious, loyal, and vengeful. I feel something as I watch her struggle to find a place in the world. Different episodes do a good job shifting tones in order to match the struggles Hanna goes through. One episode she’s living her best survivor life in the forest. The next she’s going out to clubs and dancing. Thankfully, these drastically different tones don’t feel jarring. Each is connected by Hanna’s continuous desire to define her own life.

The story certainly puts her through her paces. After the CIA shows up, the majority of the plot involves Hanna’s escapes as she confronts the outside world for the first time. She makes friends, finds romance, struggles with revelations about her parentage, and so forth. A considerable amount gets thrown at this poor girl. It’s a coming-of-age story by just about every definition, with all the hallmarks of such a story.

She also makes a lot of connections wherever she goes, connections which help her decide on the person she wants to be. This tendency makes for an endearing quality making the tragedy of her life stand out more. She needs more people in her life. She needs a support base that has not existed through all those years hiding. Hanna desperately searches and finds them rather easily.

The standout her is her friendship with a girl named Sophie, who she meets after escaping a CIA base. Besides the considerably non-hetero tint to all their interactions, it’s a relationship that allows us a view of the girl Hanna could have been in a different life. These moments are not treated any less seriously than the CIA chases because they’re not. They are central to Hanna’s life and her journey into adulthood.

I do think more could have been given to her character. Esme Creed-Miles is reliably solid in the role, but it always feels like something is held back and never lets her quite deliver something special. What’s unfortunate is that I can see so many moments that would allow it. The second episode is practically all about Hanna meeting and growing close to Sophie. It comes across like the most obvious girl crush in the world when Sophie is immediately drawn to her new friend. They hint at something more between these two, but nothing comes of it.

Now, I’m not saying you need to make Hanna gay, bisexual, or anything in order to give her challenging material. However, it’s an example of a place where the story could have been more interesting but didn’t quite get there. I’d say the same thing about a later-season plot where Hanna meets the man who fathered her and decides what a real father is to her. It’s fine, but I wish we had more of Hanna with this man to make her choice have more impact.

Although, the highlight of the show is easily the relationship between Hanna and her “adoptive” father, Erik Heller. It’s a relationship that undergoes numerous peaks and valleys due to the miscommunications between the two. It’s fascinating to see how the similarities between them cause such significant rifts between them. Much of Hanna’s journey and decisions tie directly back to this familial dynamic, and Erik is the closest thing to another main character.

If nothing else, you get to see Joel Kinnaman oil his body up with goose fat.

Sophie also stands out simply for the different energy and concerns she brings to the show. I imagine many people might find her annoying, a perfect example of the Meadow Soprano problem. However, that’s kind of the point? As previously mentioned, she represents the life Hanna could have had. One with boys and parties and annoying little brothers, as well as parents on the verge of divorce. Sophie is also a fiercely loyal friend to Hanna. Rhianne Barreto is honestly delightful in the role and I’ll defend her character forever.

Unfortunately, no one really stands out besides these three. There are no terrible characters, but they also don’t have anything interesting about them. Most don’t get much characterization. Those who do get bare bones, stereotypical stuff. I wish most of those scenes were cut and they could just exist as background characters like the others. More room for Hanna, Erik, and Sophie.

The closest thing to another main character is Marissa Wiegler, the CIA agent who hired Erik to convince mothers into giving up their children and chases him and Hanna for most of the season. She’s okay, but falls into exactly the problem I mentioned previously. I don’t find her “one last job before retiring with my new family” framework compelling at all, and she’s possibly the only character whose motivations and decisions don’t remain consistent. I just didn’t connect with her at all.

The plot itself also struggles. It’s…fine. It’s competently told and for the most part remains tight. However, it doesn’t really challenge anything or present anything too interesting. Hanna and Erik spend the season running from the CIA and fighting them off to escape. The secret behind what exactly the CIA program Hanna was sold to is drives most of the plot development, as well as Erik’s role in it. The ending is actually fairly solid and complicated in a way most of the season can’t manage.

However, there are quite a few problems lingering in the background. It takes way too long to reveal what exactly the CIA was doing with the children they bought, and it’s not exactly fleshed out. I still don’t understand why Hanna was so important to chase, especially considering a late-season reveal. Characters make decisions clearly meant to draw out the plot rather than make any sense. Look, if you’ve seen spy stuff then you know what I’m talking about. You’ll recognize the convenient shortcuts taken.

I’m left with a lot of questions. Was Erik getting information from someone during all those years in the forest? Why are they chasing Hanna still? Why would one character have something in their home? Did this character really create such an elaborate death for someone they could easily escape rather than just shoot them in the head? It’s a combination of questions large and small that nagged me throughout.

Going back to Hanna herself, the plot also never really commits to her wildness. Her upbringing alone in a forest only shows up when needed, and disappears when inconvenient. She will be impossibly knowledgeable about some things and social in situations she shouldn’t be. This again is where I wish stuff with other characters was cut so we could get more of Hanna learning and changing. I kept waiting for scenes where Hanna’s “wildness” got her caught. It does happen sometimes, but not enough. They should have at least led to more interesting scenes where she tried to adjust to life among civilization.

The show also refuses to commit to the realism of its fight scenes. It was this dedication to realistically brutal fights that splashed across the screen at my movie theater. However, this dedication vanishes sometimes, and almost always in overly silly fashion. It’s jarring to see the opening episode focus so insistently on Hanna’s training and the danger of the world to her, then have the second episode show the escape from a CIA base in ludicrously easy fashion where she overpowers multiple agents. If the plot did more to explain what makes Hanna so physically capable, I wouldn’t mind scenes of her doing this. They don’t, though, so I just see something silly.

Then you contrast brutal fight scenes with moments where characters stand right next to a car that blows up and only have a couple scratches on their face, or stand watching while a character takes time to take each of them down one by one.

Ultimately I feel like Hanna didn’t really commit to any one thing it truly wanted to do, or couldn’t figure out how to do so and took some shortcuts. This doesn’t doom the show. Not at all. It does keep it from being as good as it could be, though.

Still, to return to the original question, is Hanna worth a watch? I think so. Hanna herself is a good protagonist with enough ability, likeability, and queerness to appeal to a lot of people reading this. Her relationship with her father is a strong draw. Her friendship with Sophie is adorable. The plot is good enough at covering its flaws to keep you engaged throughout, though you’ll definitely have a lot of questions in the aftermath.

It’s a good watch with a fun premise. If you’re out there waiting for your teen girl version of Jason Bourne, I happily recommend this show to you. I have no idea if Amazon will order a second season. I think I’d be happy to see what Hanna could come up.

Images Courtesy of Amazon

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