So here's my beef with action films - and as a 20-something male I feel obliged to speak up here - it is a broken genre, indifferent to the interests of half the audience while fooling the other half into thinking this is as good as it can get. These films have lately devolved into simulacra of simulacra (when Bond starts copying Bourne that's a cry for help) and even some of the more ambitious outings recently have fumbled the through-lines on their stories because they're trying to be just too damn complicated. You know the system is broken when they try to fix it just by rearranging the same pieces in a different order. I really don't care to ever see another action flick with Jason Statham or Sylvester Stallone, and especially not when the story and direction take a backseat to serving star power. The other problem here is the near total void of female-centric action films. Sucker Punch you say? Sucker Punch doesn't fucking count, and if you imagine what the porn on a 13-year-old's computer looks like, it will occur to you why. Action heroines defined so shamelessly by the male gaze are neither progress nor worth any of your time, juvenile males excepted.
Ok, rant over. Here's why Hanna is the remedy.
After a decade's worth of action films that feasted on the regurgitated remains of their former selves, it was high time for something fresh. So here we have Joe Wright - as in, director of Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, Joe Wright - stepping up the the plate, and what do you know, he finds an even better home for his somewhat untethered stylistic extravagances. Because much as I adore Atonement, flashy camerawork and period romance don't go hand-in-hand for many, but his impulses are perfectly suited to Hanna's modern day fairytale, with roughly equal measures of guns and Grimm.
His casting is another welcome sight. Saorise Ronan, who's previous work with Wright is not so secretly one of my favorite performances of the last decade, is certainly not who jumps to mind when you imagine the next great action heroine. Hanna may not quite be Ripley or The Bride, but she could hold her own against either, and frankly, the competition lately has been scarce. She aces the role, quite apparently a physically demanding one, but not without some subtle emotional strain too. The supporting players do exactly what fairytale characters (or, why not, action characters) ought to, each leaving a significant mark on the story as they intersect it. Cate Blanchett plays a big bad wolf of a villain (seen earlier sharpening her teeth, figuratively, and later in the maw of a wolf, literally). She relishes the part and it's a wonderfully devilish turn, far more threatening than her Soviet shtick in Indiana Jones and the Stupid Alien Ship. There's also Tom Hollander, playing totally against type as an ambiguous German hitman with a song in his heart, and a terrific newcomer in Jessica Barden as Hanna's first and only friend, who hasn't quite figured out what lesbians are. Eric Bana, as Hanna's rogue huntsman father, is fortunately not forgotten by Wright after his significant role in the opening scenes, and he's treated to a few nifty ambushes later on. With so many actors - Bana excepted - playing against type, Hanna never once feels like something you've seen before.
But, mind you, I did say it's an action film, and a damn great one at that. There's a simple, but more importantly unflawed storyline to carry any entertainment-hungry audience from thrill to thrill. There's nothing needlessly complicated and no big surprise waiting at the end (the twist that does come is neither preposterous nor played up for wow-factor). There's also a lot of fantastic action set-pieces, a few small ones that play out with the secondary characters, and a handful of epic chases that send Hanna across a futuristic underground holding center, a shipping yard under cover of night, and a decrepit theme park, among others. What makes these sequences such thrills - on top of Ronan's unflappable presence - is the brilliant fusion of Wright's kinetic direction and the spot-on compositions by The Chemical Brothers. The main theme in particular - which Hollander's character adapts into his own demented whistle after hearing it in a bar - is the kind of infectious tune that you actually don't mind getting stuck in your head.
And just for those wondering, the comparisons to last year's Kick Ass are totally misguided. Despite embracing the idea of a fairytale, Hanna appears to exist in the real world, one where characters, however exaggerated, still behave with some kind of logic. It's also well aware of the moral ramifications of a teenage killing machine, and yet never resorts to the equally off-putting attempt to attach a message at the end. It's not destined to be some great box office success, but my hope is that it can at least hold up against...I don't know, the greasy double-threat of Russell Brand...or whatever ever else it was that I've been staying clear of these last few weeks. I don't know where it will rank among my favorites come the end of the year, but if I didn't see a better action film all year, I'd hardly be surprised...but to be fair, nor would I be disappointed. And I think I'll sleep safe at night quite sure that they won't be attempting a sequel.