The history behind one of cinema’s most beloved villains is illuminated, but the results are less than inspiring. Hannibal Rising was a film destined to shed light on the mystery of the infamous cannibal, but it only serves to further dilute the impact of the original film series. Looking in from the outside without seeing the finished product one would easily assume this could be a good film, think about it: a promising film director, a screenplay that was being penned by Thomas Harris (the author of the books on which the series is based) and a character that has become just as a part of American culture as apple pie. However, what is given to viewers is a film with half-cocked ideas and a plot that is too simplistic for such a complex character.
The movie opens in Eastern Europe, where audiences are introduced to the young Hannibal Lector and his family. Chaos fills the air as the story is set during the final moments of World War II and his family fleas there castle to a wooden cabin hidden in the dense forest. As the story progress a tragic accident claims the lives of his parents and those of some Russian soldiers, but little Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) keeps it together to calm his sister, Mischa. Peace and tranquility are fleeting after that as a group of rogue bandits discover the cabin and chain the children together while trying to evade capture. The cold begins to take its toll when food becomes scarce. Here is the moment that forever transforms this cute, little boy into one of the most notorious serial killers: the men kill and eat his sister.
Hannibal Rising boasts noteworthy performances from its leads, Ulliel and Li Gong. Ulliel (A Very Long Engagement) marks his first major Hollywood outing with a very enjoyable caricature of Lecter. There are seildom moments where he channels the well-known cannibal but more often than not it merely plays as a second-rate knock off.
Fresh off a tantalizing role in Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha, Gong is once again the cornerstone of another movie with far-too-high expectations. Audiences should keep an eye of the lovely Gong because with the right role in a great picture, she might someday soon be accepting her own gold statuette.
Surprisingly enjoyable, Rhys Ifans plays Lecter’s arch nemesis and the man responsible for stealing his innocence. Ifans still shaking off a run of dud flicks (Danny Deckchair, Vanity Fair) makes Brutus, a character viewers will love to hate but lacks the edge to cross over from usual movie villain into cultural boogie man.
The problem with the script is that it just is a simple, elementary tale of revenge. The audiences then follow Hannibal (Ulliel) as he escapes foster care, learns the way of the Samurai and plots against those who took Mischa away. Any person that has followed, or seen any chapter in the franchise will find the back story unsavory. What plagues this movie and drives into sub par genre fonder is that it is truly unnecessary. Filmmakers seem to forget that it is the mystery which draws us in, entertains us and scares us. The idea of a horror prequel is completely ridiculous as are countless unwarranted sequels. With iconic characters such as Lecter, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and even Darth Vader, it is the unexplained that shocks audiences. Nothing in Hannibal, Red Dragon or Hannibal Rising is as chilling or terrifying than the first time the camera points you directly into Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins)’s eyes as we are introduced to him from the perspective of Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). That is exactly what studios and executives don’t get. When a unique moment or character is create, one that transcend even the confines of typical genre fare, it is best left alone than cheapen in pursuit of bigger payoffs.
In the currently film landscape where prequels are being used to reinvent and infuse tired characters with darker elements in order to keep audiences guessing, Hannibal Rising is outright disappointing. The filmmakers are given the opportunity to recreate a horror legend, but instead opt out for cheap thrills, a predictable revenge backdrop and overused genre clichés.