Adapting a film into a television show isn’t easy, but it sure as hell doesn’t stop people from trying; that thought wouldn’t escape my mind while watching Hanna, Amazon’s latest high-profile dramatic series debuting this Friday, two months after its post-Super Bowl pilot debut (one of two major film-to-TV adaptations arriving this week, including FX’s What We Do in the Shadows). After all, taking the themes and characters of a two-hour project and building out a fresh, compelling new foundation to build on, potentially for years, is a fickle endeavor – for every Fargo and Limitless, there is a Minority Report – or if we really want to get dark, a Crash (a bad series based on a bad movie). Hanna‘s eight-episode debut is a textbook case of why so many adaptations feel unnecessary, or lost in translation; emotionally hollow and dramatically inert, Hanna languishes in predictable, two-dimensional melodrama that never establishes its own voice – or more importantly, a compelling reason for existence.
Emotionally hollow and dramatically inert, Hanna‘s first season languishes in predictable, two-dimensional melodrama that never establishes its own voice – or more importantly, a compelling reason for existence.
Originally a 2011 thriller directed by Joe Wright, Hanna‘s eight episode first season is written by the film’s co-writer David Farr, whose attempts to turn a 111-minute film into a seven-plus hour of television fall completely flat, expanding on the original film with a rather stiff and straightforward story. With so much time to fill, having a slightly enigmatic titular character (played effortlessly by Esme Creed-Miles) is simply not enough to keep a series running – and outside of a few kinetic dialogue exchanges between reunited The Killing stars Joel Kinnaman (as Hanna’s father) and Mireille Enos (shining as the morally conflicting antagonist), there’s not a whole lot to this first season at all, eight soulless episodes of television that are only notable for their inherent nihilism, itself buried under some particularly uninspired, dramatically inert storytelling.
Part of the problem is that Hanna has absolutely nothing to say: as a whole, Hanna feels like a production that’s just going through the motions, the only moments of excitement when the show can depict violence. Shot like a network drama in stock two-shots and lots of Steadicam, Hanna‘s lifeless direction (outside of the pilot) sets the tone for the show’s narrative construction, itself a menagerie of boring characters and mediocre plotting that cycles through conventional dramatic beats as if trying to fill in every space on a TV tropes bingo card. A mish-mash of teenage girl stories and boilerplate secret government program bullshit, Hanna‘s plotting is laughably thin at times, and often discordant from scene to scene, trying to weave past and present stories together in a way that feels scripted like a paint-by-numbers coloring book, rather than something truly dynamic and mysterious, capable of surprise or poignancy.
This leads to a show that feels emotionally sanitized, and completely incapable of having fun, in any way shape or form. Early on, there are hints that Enos’s character is a little too sarcastic for her own good, but any sense of personality in her is stamped out by rote dialogue and an insistence on highlighting the same superficial aspects of her character in a repetitive fashion, something that spreads to just about every other on-screen presence. What it leads to is a collection of thoroughly boring characters, held back from expressing anything outside of begrudging grimness. The few moments characters are allowed to express something outside of that tiny spectrum, Hanna shows brief glimpses of coming to life – none of those moments are ever allowed to blossom, however, which never lets the show escape its own mediocrity.
It’s strange just how little Hanna tries to connect with the audience: the only thing it really conveys across seven hours is its slight fetish for militaristic violence, perhaps the only real device it has for conjuring any actual tension in the series. It is strange; the only time the series feels like it has a pulse whatsoever is when there’s an opportunity to spill blood – which the series doesn’t even do as frequently as you’d think, which leads to inconsistently paced climatic sequences, clearly designed around the moment blood spray gets to appear on screen. But there is no depth to this fetish; where Hannibal made death beautiful, and Banshee made violence as brutal and unsettling as possible, Hanna just wants to have gunshots and knife wounds because, well, it at least gets characters moving around, something the rest of the season struggles mightily to do.
On the surface, Hanna appears to be the definition of “fine”; after all, it is competently shot, wonderfully performed (Rhianne Barreto is a particular highlight of the supporting cast), and coherently plotted. Taken as a whole, however, Hanna is the safest possible version of itself it could be, utterly absent of narrative risks, deep character exploration, or interesting visual design to establish a personality or unique voice. Dark Angel, a show with very similar ideas and characters, was able to accomplish more on all three creative fronts in its first hour than Hanna ever aspires to have across its eight-episode run. Empty and forgettable (and completely lacking in a “signature” episode, a strange move for a prestige streaming drama), Hanna is destined to be immediately forgotten after being watched, a huge missed opportunity to elevate its familiar stories of identity and family into something powerful and memorable in any discernible way.