by Richard von Busack
THE GENRE of butt-kicking babes is a piece of cultural chewing gum whose minty flavor has finally gone flat. There are few things an audience likes better than a girl with a sword, but witnesses stayed away in droves from the Zack Snyder fiasco Sucker Punch.
This week's Hanna can expect some celebration as a grrrl-power fiesta. In the title role, Saoirse Ronan widens her extraterrestrially crystalline eyes as she endures and inflicts trauma. Dressed in a fur wardrobe and living in the permafrost, Hanna (Ronan) was raised by her ex-assassin father (Eric Bana) with the motto "adapt or die." In her wintry wilderness hideout, she's about to turn 16.
Dad's idea of a debutante party is to let the world of intelligence seekers know that the girl is alive, via electronic beacon. He's throwing down the gauntlet to the CIA, which has been seeking Hanna since birth, with the intent of rubbing her out.
The forces of the evil executive Marissa (Cate Blanchett) capture Hanna, but the girl escapes a stainless-steel-lined redaction pit in Morocco and crosses Europe without a passport. She does this by stowing away with a family on RV holiday. They're hippie squabblers, played by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng.
Whenever the reality of this story starts to fray, director Joe Wright points us at the Grimm Fairy Tales book that Hanna keeps in her arctic cabin. Amping up the witchiness of Blanchett's Marissa also helps devolve this paranoid spy story into a fairy tale.
Blanchett does what she can to make her character as motivelessly evil as a wicked stepmother. Almost as outre as the Diane Laddlipstick/war paint scene in David Lynch's Wild at Heart is the sight of Blanchett lashing her gums with dental floss until they bleed; hygiene be damned, the scene exists so she can make a bloody-mouthed grimace in a magnified makeup mirror.
Wright also includes the three nihilists from The Big Lebowski on the chase-not them, per se, but a trio of theatrical German goons, with their own evil music-box/satanic ice-cream-truck tinkling tune by the Chemical Brothers.
Hanna ends in the world of our most popular fairy tale today, Batman. There's a turning point among shipping containers, as in Batman Begins; the finale is a classic Bat-fight in an abandoned amusement park with jumbo fiberglass mushrooms, a friendly dwarf and a house of wooden gingerbread.
Fantasy directors (and Hanna is more fantasy than spy movie) seem to be trying to retrieve something of the 1960s, as if it was the last decade in which there was a consensus on what constituted pop art.
We're starting to see the reprise of the English opium-eater style lately: a golden braid connecting John Boorman at his most flamboyant to Ken Russell to Julie Taymor. There was a lot of the last of the opium-eaters, Terry Gilliam, in Sucker Punch, as well as a big nod to Brazil in the by now tired 1950s retro-futurism and the Japanese iron-samurai attack. (And if we're doing a genealogy chart of butt-kicking babes, let's don't forget Kim Greist).
Director Wright (Atonement) sensibly adds some art-house cachet to the butt-kicking action. Considering the Girl Who Brought People Back to the Art Houses trilogy, it's a smart commercial tactic.
Hanna follows the rusting tracks of the psychedelic Fellini-goes-to-Soho gravy train, but there's nothing endearing this time around about the counterculture, even when we stop to listen to a group of gypsies singing in Spain. The camp is grotty and crowded; it's like the places the Lonely Planet books warn you to avoid.
This weird mash of Jack London and Alias is meant as a pleasure machine, but it's an oddly dour thrill ride that insists on good training over the freestyle adaptation it claims is the only key to survival. If it's spy thrillers that need to adapt or die, why is Hanna such a throwback?