Hanna isn't merely a departure from director Joe Wright's mannered filmography. It feels more like his antidote for it. A stylized fable whose substance doesn't measure up to its resounding razzmatazz, Hanna is a blend of breathless chase thriller and fairy-tale conceit. It's as if Wright is trading in his high-literary reputation from Pride and Prejudice and Atonement for the sake of proving his mettle as an action director.
The result is not without success. For all its Grimm allegory, the film is like an alt-universe continuum of Luc Besson's The Professional filtered into the visual stylings of Run Lola Run. (Hanna's final act is also set in Berlin.)
The first 16 years of Hanna's hardscrabble life take place in the wintry woods of Finland. There, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, whom Wright directed in Atonement) and her father, Erik (Eric Bana), live in a spartan shack devoid of modern creature comforts. Erik has taught his daughter the fine art of bow hunting, hand-to-hand combat, multilingualism and a virtual memorization of the encyclopedia.
All this preparation is a prelude for a vague mission targeting Marissa (Cate Blanchett, doing her best Tilda Swinton impersonation), a fastidious, hard-edged CIA operative who shares an unpleasant past with Erik and a mysterious connection with Hanna. Once Hanna decides she is ready to leave the roost, it triggers a chase to kill Marissa before she can return the favor.
For all Hanna's superhuman fighting skills, her sheltered upbringing makes her ill-prepared for life outside the forest, or even basic human interaction. She flees her first night in a hotel room in terror, petrified by the technological cacophony of whirling ceiling fans, showers, televisions and an electric teakettle. And, although the film couches Hanna's affinity for Sophie (Jessica Barden), a glib Brit teen traveling through Morocco with her hippie parents, as a vaguely sexual one, it's actually the awkward reactions of a pubescent girl struggling to understand an unfamiliar rush of feelings.
Hanna ends up with a chase through Berlin's now-defunct Spreepark, notably its replica Grimm Haus. Indeed, all the metaphor making quickly elbows out any emotional grace notes. Hanna is the fairy-tale princess, Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood rolled up into one pint-sized Nikita. Meanwhile, Blanchett's Marissa is a mashup of the wicked stepmother/ witch and Big Bad Wolf—there's even an unfortunate trip to Grandma's house—and especially effective were such kitschy touches as the row of electric toothbrushes Marissa uses to scrub her incisors until the gums bleed. The better to eat you with, my dear?