Amazon’s ‘Hanna’ Updates a Cult Action Movie Into a Skillful Series

Hanna,” the new action drama series by Amazon, features one of those heroines who stands out because she has never been allowed to live in the real world. This is the latest television adaptation of a recent feature film, namely the 2011 action thriller of the same name directed by Joe Wright which starred Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana. That was a well done spy thriller which eventually developed a cult following. Now, as a show, it expands the original film’s premise. We still get moments of exhilarating stunts and death-defying climaxes, but meaningful character drama as well.

We open in Romania, where rogue CIA agent Erik Heller (Joel Kinnaman) and his partner escape into a cold wintry night with a baby. As you can already guess, the child is part of some covert operation. A crash ensues. With his beloved dead, Erik keeps moving. He retreats into the woods where he raises the girl to become Hanna (Esme Creed-Miles). As is required in this kind of tale, Erik teaches Hanna different languages, tidbits about American pop culture and world geography — how to chart the stars, etc. It’s not all academics however, Erik also teaches Hanna the fine ways of mortal combat, guns and archery. Inevitably as Hanna reaches adolescence she becomes restless and curious about the outside world. One day she bumps into a Polish boy her age working in the forest. They almost hook up, but he chooses the wrong spot and those darn intelligence agents pop up, chasing after the two and possibly killing the poor guy. The innocent time in the woods is over and Hanna finds herself fleeing into civilization. The biggest danger for her is a woman named Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos), a CIA official looking for the now rediscovered, fleeing science project.

As with most spy yarns, the best way to enjoy “Hanna” is to take it for what it is. When we watch a Jason Bourne or James Bond movie we rarely stop to ponder if any of it is possible. The question is if it’s done well. This new series is helmed by David Farr, who co-wrote the original movie, and so he knows this world inside out. It’s a story about growing up filtered through the action genre. Before the real plot gets going, most of the pilot is about this young girl living in the woods with a caring father, asking questions that are universal when you’re a kid, except in her case they’re more restricted because she’s never lived among society. The moments where she first makes contact with a boy in the woods are touching because she’s experiencing certain feelings for the first time, while showing off the fact that she knows how to read the constellations. Casting always helps make these fantasies enjoyable and Joel Kinnaman has the wise presence necessary for Erik. We see him going over certain terms and meanings with Hanna, showing her pictures of their pursuers, training her memory so she can always be alert. The writing has that kind of survivalist language typical in this genre.

Once the action gets moving “Hanna” manages to combine the international espionage material with some engaging, even funny side characters that help the lead character continue on her path of growing up. Hanna is momentarily captured by her pursuers and escapes, disguised in army fatigues somewhere in Africa. She makes it into the desert and bumps into a vacationing family that includes Sophie (Rhianne Barreto). Sophie is that typical, condemned teenager forced to go on annoying family vacations. But there’s more to the story. Her parents are having marriage troubles and they hope this trip will help. When they come across Hanna she becomes part of their troupe, and befriends Sophie who shows her the ways of being a modern-day teen, while Hanna will inevitably introduce Sophie to her own world of secret experiments, weapons and cool combat moves.

This is all skillfully weaved into an overall action story with thrilling chases, fights, shootouts and standoffs that rival your standard, Friday night action movie. Big action sequences are shot with a patient visual style that avoids the more choppy editing habits of other shows. But overall we grow to care about Hanna as the season progresses, because she’s just a kid thrown into a situation not of her choosing. That’s everyone’s story, we don’t have a say on where we’ll be born. That may sound over-the-top for a spy series, but that’s the point of a good comic book or action movie. The premise might flirt with being absurd, but it expresses something more universal, even human, amid the suspense and thrills.

Hanna” season one begins streaming March 29 on Netflix.