The 2011 film “Hanna” was a delicious surprise. Directed by prestige moviemaker Joe Wright (of “Atonement” and, later, “Darkest Hour”), “Hanna” played like an artist’s frantic attempt to cram in all the wild impulses he wasn’t allowed elsewhere, while retaining a certain fundamental elegance. Saoirse Ronan played a teen trained from childhood to be a killing machine for reasons that never quite become clear. Engaged in cat-and-mouse warfare with Cate Blanchett’s compulsive CIA officer, Ronan’s Hanna sprinted through dazzlingly constructed frames as a propulsive techno score (composed by the Chemical Brothers) blared — and the movie never lost its balance or its control.
That filmic achievement, the ability to remain upright in the midst of mania, is what makes Amazon’s new series adaptation of “Hanna” so disappointing. The new show lacks the glimmering creativity of its source material, and, perversely enough, it manages to feel overstuffed despite its relative lack of inventive flourishes. In expanding the lean story of “Hanna” out to eight episodes, the series has sacrificed the enigma at the story’s heart; that so many opportunities to do something visually distinctive get passed over ends up being the show’s greatest mystery.
Ronan, here, is replaced by Esmé Creed-Miles, a gifted young performer who’s asked to hit a similar note over and over. Having been raised in extreme isolation, Hanna is unfamiliar with normal social customs, and her fight for survival is studded with moments of confusion and misunderstanding, as in her interactions with a family of vacationers whom she keeps meeting over and over. This naivete plays better at ninety minutes than a very slow-burning season, but Creed-Miles does her best. The other principals feel like a made-for-TV scaling-down of the parts played on film by Blanchett and Eric Bana: Mireille Enos is the spy in pursuit of Hanna, and Joel Kinnaman is Hanna’s morally dubious father. Both performances feel tamped-down and almost allergic to fun, as though no one had told Enos or Kinnaman that they were starring on a series about a teen assassin.
But then, the show’s entire creative brief seems to have been at odds with the brio of its premise. In jerry-rigging a longer and more elaborate story involving secret government facilities and a veritable army of young supersoldiers onto the relatively slender mythology of the film, “Hanna” has replaced its predecessor’s jaunty, exhilarating tone with something far less inventive. The replacement of an idiosyncratic techno score with a standard-issue action-series one says it all: What once was giddy now plods. The violence is amped up, gruesomely and excessively so, but the sense that one is watching an expression of someone’s curious creative vision erodes amidst the endless gunfire. Extended sequences of torture feel “gritty” for grittiness’s sake. And Enos, playing a character whose obsessive need for control haunts the entire endeavor, feels instead low-key and low-energy, a choice that sums up “Hanna” in its entirety. Its diffident, box-checking approach to action-TV tropes will leave viewers short of satisfied, whether or not they’re familiar with a film property that delivered so much more.
That “Hanna” the television show so badly misunderstands what had been appealing about “Hanna” the film may have something to do with the creative mandates of peak TV-era genre fare. There, it turns out, are fewer risks available to the TV creator even than to a blockbuster movie director; in order to make a “Hanna” that could credibly be part of a streaming service’s complement of programs, Amazon has erased anything about “Hanna” that would make it stand out. That it ends up blending in as something low-key enough to be bingeable without inducing migraine may, indeed, be the point, but the sparkiness of “Hanna” the film was part of the fun. Because it has a title people might recognize and stars they almost certainly do, “Hanna” can’t deviate too far from a familiar playbook, with guns and glumness signaling that this is a show with something on its mind. What a shame to sacrifice so much sprightly vigor and probing curiosity for a show that uses a familiar title to aim so low.
“Hanna.” Amazon. March 29. Eight episodes (all screened for review).
Cast: Esmé Creed-Miles, Joel Kinnaman, Mireille Enos, Joanna Kulig, Rhianne Barreto, Stefan Rudolf, Peter Ferdinando, Katharina Heyer, Benno Fürmann, Felicien Juttner, Gamba Cole, Justin Salinger, Khalid Abdalla, Yasmine Monet Prince, Noah Taylor
Executive Producers: David Farr, Tom Coan, JoAnn Alfano, Andrew Woodhead, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Marty Adelstein, Becky Clements, Scott Nemes