‘Hanna’ and the Problem of the Girl Hero

by Mary S

Whenever a movie with a girl protagonist comes out, I try to see it. Usually, I get excited that it might be good/actually about an adolescent girl, and come home pissed off, or, at best underwhelmed. In the past few years, it has become almost a trend to have little girls as the unlikely focus of a film (Note the tagline in the poster above: “Young. Sweet. Innocent. Deadly.”) Sometimes the young girl’s innocence serves as a foil to her crazy, violent surroundings a la Pan’s Labyrinth or Tidelands or Let the Right One In. Almost always, the girl’s father has determined her fate, whether he is raising her to be tough (it’s certainly a movie cliche that all female cops are just following the legacy of their beloved single parent daddies) , or simply ruining her life. Rarely does the movie starring a young girl spend actual time ruminating on her existence the way most movies about middle aged men do.

Kick Ass fell into the former category, with a girl character  raised to be an assassin by her assassin father. And while it was great to see Chloe Moretz’ Hit Girl kick ass on screen, she was ultimately not the focus of the film, which mostly featured your all-too-typical unlikely superhero/ triumphant nerd who inexplicably gets a hot, boring girlfriend after he stalks her one to many times, and who ultimately has to save Hit Girl in the end even though she is the one with the skills.

Hanna abounds with all the typical movie cliches. Her upbringing is pretty much identical to Hit Girl’s, growing up in an isolated environment with an obsessed dad who spends every waking minute training his protegee. Cate Blanchett’s villain is a barren ice queen politician type whose overwhelming bitterness seems to stem in part from her lack of a good man. Throw in some depraved killer homos, colorful ethnic peoples to make up exotic scenery, a too-cute squabbling hippie family  and lots of longing looks and gritty/artsy shots, and Hanna doesn’t exactly offer up a unique perspective. 

Saoirse Ronan’s Hanna is technically a pretty great female character- a good actor, she actually looks like a teenager, and is certainly capable of carrying a movie. Hanna has been rightly criticized for not following through on anything, but some effort is made into making her a real character, out of place but curious about a world she wasn’t raised in. Female action stars are almost always sexualized, and, as in Kick Ass, having an adolescent girl as the protagonist helps avoid this issue. (How many times have we heard that women can be strong and show their boobs like it’s some kind of revolutionary statement?) 

Too slow-paced (and she doesn’t spend enough time killing people) to make the fast, fun, exhilarating kind of action movie women rarely star in, Hanna, like most movies about young girls, isn’t really about her either. It comes as no surprise, at the end, when she is told to run away and let her father handle one of the biggest fight scenes. Halfway between art film and action movie, Hanna doesn’t do justice to its hero. 

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