Déjà view: Seen it all before?

While leaving the cinema, with the credits to Joe Wright’s Hanna playing behind me, I had one overriding concern about the movie. There were a lot of things in it which I absolutely loved – from the thumping techno soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers to the mesmerizing screen presence of Saoirse Ronan, it was a film which had a lot of things going for it. It was a surprising turn for director Joe Wright, who  before had mainly stuck to period dramas like Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. It’s quite a leap from these types of films to the relentless action-y thrills of Hanna, and the fact that Wright pulled it all off so well is a testament to his ability as a director.
But, as I said, I had just one point of contention. And unfortunately, it was a pretty big one. I felt like I’d seen it all before.
It certainly wasn’t a clichéd film; not in the slightest. But it seemed to share a lot of plot with last year’s Kick-Ass, if you removed the titular green-clad wannabe superhero from the equation and focused on the film’s real star, Hit-Girl (Chloë Moretz). Both Ronan and Moretz play little girls who have been trained intensively in all forms of combat by their fathers, and who have been prevented from leading a normal life. Both of the girls’ mothers are dead, and both girls’ father-figures are training them in order to get revenge for a tragedy which befell their mother. Neither film seemed overly concerned with the moral implications of all this. And ultimately, both father-figures share similar fates. There are a number of other similarities I won’t get into, but suffice to say, the films’ endings aren’t too dissimilar either. Although Kick-Ass’s is, admittedly, rather more spectacular.
I’d like to stress that I’m not trying to say that either film plagiarised the other. Joe Wright has stated in interview that he didn’t even know about Kick-Ass until well after Hanna was already in production. And although it bothered me, it’s a petty complaint which shouldn’t detract from Hanna, which is an excellent film and which you should go and see.
The parallel between Kick-Ass and Hanna is the continuation of a strange tendency in Hollywood films – for films with very similar themes and ideas to come out very close to each other, often even in the same year. Take a look at Antz and A Bug’s Life – both came out in 1998 (I bet that makes you feel old) and both are computer-animated films about an ant colony. An ant colony. We managed to go without ant-based entertainment for almost a century of cinematic history, and then suddenly we couldn’t go a year without having two at once.
There are countless other examples. Repo! The Genetic Opera, Repossession Mambo and Repo Men came out in 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively – and all are films about a dystopian future where ‘repo men’ come to repossess organs from those who haven’t been able to pay for them. In 2006 The Illusionist and The Prestige were released, two period films about magicians in the Victorian era which revolve around the intense rivalries between two central characters.
You get the picture. The similarities between these films would be weird enough on their own, but the fact that they’re released in or around the same year is what makes it really interesting. In most cases, it’s likely that market pressures are responsible. When a Hollywood exec observes the market and it seems that disaster movies are ‘in’ this year, it’s no wonder that both Deep Impact and Armageddon are made at the same time, to fill that gap. If this isn’t to blame, then it’s probably just simple coincidence – after all, hundreds of movies are made every year. It’s no wonder some end up the same.
Hanna and Kick-Ass were released just far enough apart that they might escape comparison by most, but in the end, their similarities are pure coincidence, and they’re continuing an honourable trend of Hollywood movies unconsciously mimicking each other. If their plots are similar, at least their tone, visual style and action sequences are so different that they can hardly be considered rivals. Maybe Hanna and Hit-Girl should team up sometime; they certainly have a lot in common.