The best way to describe Hannibal Rising is to call it a rape/revenge horror movie and then quickly explain that there’s no actual rape. An event that’s just as psychologically damaging occurs, however, and the rest of the film deals with the title character’s transition into adulthood and subsequent decision to kill the men responsible for ruining his life. Oh, and it’s also not scary whatsoever, so “horror” doesn’t really apply.
We begin near the end of World War II. Eight-year-old Hannibal Lecter (Aaran Thomas) and his younger sister, Mischa (Helena-Lia Tachovska) have just had their parents murdered, and they’re trying their best to survive. A few men break into their house, chain them up, and then eat all of their food. The men stay in the house for days, eventually coming to the conclusion that they’re either going to starve, or have to eat one of the children. Mischa is chosen (she has pneumonia and is therefore expendable), and is soon killed and eaten. After some time, Lecter manages to escape.
He eventually grows up, is now played by Gaspard Ulliel, and moves in with his aunt, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li). He discovers some samurai teachings, learns how to wield a samurai sword, and figures out what his goal in life should be. He’s going to hunt down the men who ate his sister, and cannibalize them as punishment (because they’ll care despite being dead, right?) He’s also a very intelligent person, becoming the youngest person ever accepted to a prestigious medical school, and gets to learn all sorts of things about the human body while working as someone who prepares bodies for dissection.
So, yes, this is an origin story about how Hannibal Lecter became “Hannibal the cannibal.” I don’t know about other audience members, but I really didn’t care how the character got to be the way that Anthony Hopkins portrayed him as. Geniuous and insanity are separated only by a fine line, after all. Some things are better left unexplained. That’s not the way that Hollywood works, so here we have Hannibal Rising, an unnecessary film that tarnishes the character’s name more than Red Dragon could even dream of doing.
For a movie primarily focused on a beloved character going around killing a bunch of other people, this is one dull film. Maybe it’s because we already know the eventual fate of Lecter, meaning there’s no tension whenever his life is threatened, but I think it goes deeper than that: Nothing in the film is put together in a way that makes it compelling. From the disjointed story to the overbearing musical score, this is a film that’s a burden to watch.
Any affection we had for the Hannibal Lecter character was gained through previous films. This one does nothing to make us feel for him, even though that’s one of the main goals. It wants us to see why his cannibalism isn’t a terrible deed, as his life was put through such torment that it’s only natural for him to want revenge. But then we also get somewhat sympathetic “villains,” all of which just did what they had to in order to survive, and it leaves me questioning why we’re supposed to like this cold-blooded killer.
Let me put this a different way: Rhys Ifans plays a villain in this movie. How are we supposed to root against him? Well, Hannibal Rising hopes that Lecter has built up enough good faith over the previous films that we’ll automatically be drawn to him even if he is no longer performed by Anthony Hopkins. Well, I learned one thing from this film, although it was something that I was already leaning toward: Hopkins made the character, and without him in the role, Lecter loses interest.
The character also doesn’t bear all that much resemblance to the adult Lecter whom we get to know in the chronologically later film. Not just in looks, although anyone who thinks Ulliel and Hopkins have a shred of resemblance is fooling themselves, but in the way that the characters act. Now, obviously someone who is 40 years younger is going to act differently, but this is supposed to explain to us how Lecter became the way he is in the other films. That just doesn’t happen here, and it feels like there was much more to tell. If they’re leaving themselves open for a sequel, I sincerely hope that a completely new crew is brought in, as this one didn’t do a good job.
The worst part about Hannibal Rising is that it’s just terribly boring. Here we have a character who could previously carry a mediocre film (Hannibal) or make a good film great (The Silence of the Lambs), but watching him here is just no fun at all. He’s not clever, he’s not smart, he’s not interesting, and he’s not unique. There’s no madness to his method; he’s just on a generic Hollywood revenge path, and the character is being ruined with every second he’s on-screen.
This is a terrible movie. The performances are poor, the writing is laughable, the plot doesn’t flow and the score is overbearing and distracting. It was adopted from a novel written almost solely so that the Lecter novels’ author could make sure that his story was the one Hollywood used, and in his haste, he didn’t come up with a good or even watchable plot. The novel wasn’t well-received, and I can see no reason for you to watch this movie. There is no suspense, no joy, and nothing to gleam from this ill-conceived disaster.