You’ve got to feel slightly sorry for wunderkind director Joe Wright, whose latest film, Hanna, opened recently to respectful if occasionally bewildered reviews and decent box office. When it was originally planned, the central concept (teenage girl is trained by her vengeful father as an assassin with the intention of avenging her mother’s death) must have seemed edgy, envelope-pushing and innovative. One can only imagine Wright’s face when he saw Matthew Vaughan’s Kick-Ass, which not only features a near-identical central concept but, when its (younger) assassin Hit Girl merrily says to a bunch of villains, ‘Right you cunts, let’s see what you can do’, manages to smash a whole set of taboos and outrage the Daily Mail at the same time.
But Hanna suffers from several unfortunate aspects of timing. Everything about it has been done before, and often better. The emphasis on close-scale hand-to-hand violence is straight out of the Bourne films, as are the globe-trotting narrative and shadowy government operatives plotting illegal machinations with unknowing subjects. An action scene involving characters stalking each other in dock containers is highly reminiscent of Batman Begins. The Chemical Brothers’ pounding electronic score is less interesting than Daft Punk’s similar music to Tron: Legacy. And so on, and so on. The overall impression is one of déjà vu, of course, but then that’s the case for virtually all Hollywood films these days.
What’s weird, and slightly depressing, is that Joe Wright has been lionized as one of the great futures of cinema. Like a lot of other young, or young-ish British directors (Tom Hooper, Sam Mendes, Duncan Jones) he has made some attention-catching films that have been dutifully praised by critics without being particularly good. His 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice was worthy and largely uninteresting; his 2007 adaptation of Atonement did well to capture much of the book’s weird combination of nostalgia and perversity but fell apart at the end, like the source material. The less said about his bizarre aberration The Soloist the better (although he has argued, convincingly, that the film’s failure was a result of studio meddling), and then we have Hanna, where the arthouse trappings do little to disguise a generic piece of Hollywood entertainment. A good cast (the scarily talented Saiorse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett and a bleached-blonde Tom Hollander) all do their best, but given the expectations that many held for this, it’s all distressingly second-hand and, by the pat conclusion, more than a little underwhelming.