Hanna Heller (Saoirse Ronan) is a 15-year-old girl who lives with her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana) in rural northern Finland, near Kuusamo. The film opens with her hunting and killing a reindeer.
Since the age of two, Hanna has been trained by Erik, an ex-CIA operative from Germany, to be a skilled assassin. He teaches her hand-to-hand combat and drills her in target shooting. He left the agency, going incognito into the Arctic. Erik knows a secret that cannot become public, and Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a senior CIA officer, searches for him in order to eliminate him. Erik has trained Hanna with the intent that she will kill Marissa. Due to her upbringing in the wilderness, she is unfamiliar with many aspects of modern civilisation despite having read encyclopedias.
One night, Hanna tells Erik that she is "ready" to face their enemies. Erik digs up a radio beacon that eventually will alert the CIA to their presence. Although he warns Hanna that a confrontation with Marissa will be fatal for either her or Marissa, he leaves the final decision to Hanna, who activates the beacon. Erik leaves, instructing her to meet him in Berlin. A CIA special forces team arrives to capture Hanna and Erik, but Erik is already gone and, while Hanna kills two soldiers, the rest of the soldiers assume Erik killed them before escaping.
Hanna is taken to an underground CIA complex where Marissa, being suspicious, sends a body double (Michelle Dockery) to talk to Hanna. While talking to the double, Hanna starts to cry and crawls sobbing into the lap of the double, which makes her captors uneasy. They send some guards to her cell to sedate her. As they enter the cell, Hanna kills the double along with some of the guards and escapes.
In a flashback, Marissa is seen firing at a car that is carrying Hanna's mother Johanna, two-year-old Hanna, and Erik. The car crashes but the trio flees. Marissa shoots Johanna, but Erik escapes with Hanna into the woods.
Hanna finds herself on the run in the Moroccan desert, where she meets bohemian English couple Sebastian (Jason Flemyng) and Rachel (Olivia Williams), who are on a camper-van holiday with their teenage daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden), and their younger son, Miles (Aldo Maland). She stows away in the family's camper-van on the ferry ride to Spain, seeking to reach Berlin. The family is kind to her, and she and Sophie become friends, even sharing a kiss together.
Marissa hires Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a sadistic former agent, to capture Hanna. Hanna travels with the family as they drive north through France. Isaacs and two skinheads trail them and eventually corner Hanna and the family near Hamburg, but she manages to escape, killing one of the assailants. Marissa catches up with the British family and during interrogation finds out that Hanna is heading to Berlin.
Arriving at the address that Erik had given her, Hanna meets with Knepfler (Martin Wuttke), an eccentric old magician and a friend of Erik's, who lives in an abandoned amusement park. Hanna plans a rendezvous with her father. However, Marissa and Isaacs arrive. Hanna escapes, but overhears comments that suggest Erik is not her biological father.
Later, Hanna goes to her grandmother's apartment where she finds Erik, who has unsuccessfully tried to kill Marissa in her hotel room. Hanna's grandmother has been murdered by Marissa. Erik admits to Hanna that he is not her biological father. He once recruited pregnant women into a CIA program where their children's DNA was enhanced in order to create super-soldiers. After the project was shut down, its subjects were eliminated.
Marissa and Isaacs arrive, intent on killing them; Erik acts as a distraction to allow Hanna to escape. Erik kills Isaacs in a fight, but is shot by Marissa, who goes to Knepfler's house. Hanna is there, having just discovered Knepfler tortured to death by Isaacs. They wound each other and eventually Marissa becomes disoriented from her wound and falls down a chute, losing her pistol. Hanna picks up the gun and kills Marissa, echoing the deer hunting scene from the start of the film.
The film's story and script were written by Seth Lochhead while a student at Vancouver Film School. He wrote the original story and script on spec, and finalized the script in 2006, with David Farr providing later changes.
Danny Boyle and Alfonso Cuarón were previously attached to direct the film, before it was confirmed that Joe Wright would direct, after Ronan prompted the producers to consider him.
The film was co-produced by the US Holleran Company and German Studio Babelsberg, with financial support from various German film funds and the main distributor, Focus Features, which holds the copyright to the film. Most of the filming was done at Studio Babelsberg in Berlin, but locations also included Lake Kitka in Kuusamo, Finland, several German locations (including Bad Tölz, the water bridge at Magdeburg, Köhlbrandbrücke and Reeperbahn in Hamburg, and various sites in Berlin, such as Kottbusser Tor, Görlitzer Bahnhof and Spreepark), as well as Ouarzazate and Essaouira in Morocco. Temperatures during the Finland shoot sometimes fell as low as −33 °C (−27 °F), but Ronan said "Finland did bring out the fairy tale aspects of the story. We were shooting on a frozen lake, surrounded by pine trees covered in snow".
Reviewers remarked that the setting and style of Hanna significantly depart from a typical action movie. According to the official website, the film has "elements of dark fairy tales" woven into an "adventure thriller". Joe Wright, the director, has said that the movie's theme is a "fantasy" about "overcoming the dark side" during the "rites of passage" of adolescent maturation when a child transforms and "has to go into the world". He said that he was influenced by personal exposure every day as he grew up to "violent, dark, cautionary fairy tales" that "prepare children for the future obstacles in the wider world", as well as his "deep love for the mystical qualities of David Lynch movies", by the patterns of narrative that he prefers because of his dyslexia, and by working as a child in his parents' puppetry company.
In an interview with Film School Rejects, Wright acknowledged David Lynch as a major influence on Hanna and also pointed to The Chemical Brothers' score: "You can expect an extraordinarily loud, thumping, deeply funky score that will not disappoint". The music, including The Devil Is In The Beats and The Devil Is In The Details, underscores the movie's style, recalling Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange with musical motifs consistent with Wright's "fairy tale theme" of childhood innocence confronting the modern "synthetic" world. Several reviewers have commented that the movie has a hyper-stylized Kubrickian tone, reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. The "Kubrick-esque" style includes Isaacs' "gleeful sadism... at times darkly comedic," a whistling villain reminiscent of Alex DeLarge. Joe Wright's "love of fairy tales and David Lynch movies" was seen as blending A Clockwork Orange and the work of the Brothers Grimm.
Richard Roeper judged it to be a "surreal fairy tale" with "omnipresent symbolism". Matt Goldberg said it was "an effective and surreal dark fairy tale"... ..."with a dreamlike sensibility... ...Everything in the picture is slightly askew and provides immediacy to Hanna’s offbeat coming-of-age tale... ...a film that refuses to exist solely in the realm of reality or fairy tale... ...'gritty' realism simply isn’t worthy of the story he’s trying to tell." Fairy tale motifs are strewn through the film. In the "tightly-edited patchwork of visual iconography, allusion and symbolism" Wiegler is equated with the Big Bad Wolf or the queen in Snow White. "Classic fairy tale movie tropes abound;" for example, the camera spins in obvious circles as Hanna makes her escape from the underground government facility early in the film, "just as the young heroine’s world is spinning out of control." Peter Bradshaw found the fairy tale mythology "unsubtle". Conversely, some reviewers did not comment on the fairy tale elements, and others did so with expressive reservation.
Kyle Munkittrick of Discover magazine notes that Hanna is a "transhumanist hero". Despite being genetically engineered to have "high intelligence, muscle mass, and no pity", she is still a good-natured person. He says Hanna, "symbolizes the contest between genetics and environment", or, "perhaps more familiarly, nature versus nurture".
Hanna received mostly positive reviews; it has a 71% favorable rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 212 reviews. The site's critical consensus states: "Fantastic acting and crisply choreographed action sequences propel this unique, cool take on the revenge thriller". On Metacritic, the film received a weighted average score of 65/100 based on 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Justin Chang of Variety said that Hanna is "an exuberantly crafted chase thriller that pulses with energy from its adrenaline-pumping first minutes to its muted bang of a finish". Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four, commenting "Wright combines his two genres into a stylish exercise that perversely includes some sentiment and insight".
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, on the other hand, gave the film two stars out of five, stating "With its wicked-witch performance from Cate Blanchett, its derivative premise, its bland Europudding location work and some frankly outrageous boredom, this will test everyone's patience." Kenneth Turan, of the Los Angeles Times, stated that the film "starts off like a house afire but soon burns itself out", adding that even though the film is "[b]lessed with considerable virtues, including a clever concept, crackling filmmaking and a charismatic star, it ultimately squanders all of them, undone by an unfortunate lack of subtlety and restraint".
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Hanna came in second place at the U.S. box office in its first weekend behind Hop. When the film closed on 7 July 2011, it had grossed $40.3 million in North America and $25.1 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $65.3 million.
The soundtrack album features a score composed by the British big beat duo, The Chemical Brothers.
In March 2017, David Farr will write a TV series based on the film. On May 23, 2017, Amazon officially ordered the series to production.