Hanna and her sisters

Bullets, babes, and the new breed of girl power

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Sixteen-going-on-17 Saoirse Ronan plays a killing machine in the postmillenial fairytale-inspired thriller Hanna
PHOTO BY ALEX BAILEY

arts@sfbg.com

FILM With great girl power comes great responsibility — words that only a few of the Powerpuff Girls of 2011 have lived by. Behold the new generation, too young to settle down, prepped to suit up in skintight Lycra or schoolgirl gear, and eager to mete out punishment to the baddies. Girls mature faster than boys, sure, but that diary-keeping wimpy kid reigning the other half of the cineplex would have plenty to jot down in his diary if he met up with one of these slay-belles.

These babes in boyland, with all its the traditionally masculinized violence and bloodshed, aren't exactly the next Supergirls. They're nowhere near as bloodless or wholesome as the original DC product (or the 1984 Helen Slater film), and they're less likely to fall prey to the dangers of womanly representation for a mainstream fanboy audience that, say, 2004's Catwoman succumbed to. But the little girls understand — what it's like to grapple with a strength that just might spiral out of control. The tension between their innocuous, angelic looks and semi-socialized, she-tiger ferocity parallels the balance between their highly trainable programmability and their own desires. They're damaged kid sisters of Lisbeth Salander more than they are the mutant second-banana femme students of the X-Men, and they're itching for freedom like Ellen Page's reality-hampered Boltie in Super, or the fantasy girl-gang hos in Sucker Punch. Or they've been souped up as angels of vengeance at the service of embittered father figures, much like Kick-Ass scene-stealer Chloe Moretz's pint-sized Hit-Girl with her Saturday-morning-cartoon purple wig and stone-cold killer instincts. STAY ON TARGET

The title character of Hanna falls perfectly into the Hit-Girl mold. Add a dash of The Boys from Brazil-style genetic engineering — Hanna has the unfair advantage, you see, when it comes to squashing other kids on the soccer field or maiming thugs with her bare hands — and you have an ethereal killing/survival machine, played with impassive confidence by Atonement (2007) shit-starter Saoirse Ronan. She's been fine-tuned by her father, Erik (Eric Bana), a spy who went out into the cold and off the grid, disappearing into the wilds of Scandinavia where he home-schooled his charge with an encyclopedia and brutal self-defense and hunting tests.

The repellent association with real-life child soldiers who are forcibly conscripted to fight wars for corrupt elders is somewhat dispelled by the back-to-the-land-of-the-Vikings backdrop, with the film opening on Hanna hunting, clad in furs and skins, hidden in the white-on-white snowy woods beside other predators and prey. Atonement director Joe Wright plays with a palette associated with innocence, purity, and death — this could be any time or place, though far from the touch of modern childhood stresses: that other Hannah (Montana), consumerism, suburban blight, and academic competition. The 16-year-old Hanna, however, isn't immune from that desire to succeed. Her game mission: go from a feral, lonely existence into the modern world, run for her life (the Chemical Brothers' score gives her the ideal Run Lola Run-ish background music), and avenge the death of her mother by killing Erik's CIA handler, Marissa (Cate Blanchett). The nagging doubt: was she born free, or Bourne to be a killer?

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