It's Death Wish, Hannibal Lecter style, but hardly more clever than Charles Bronson. This prequel sets out to explain why our favorite serial killer decided to start eating people, but for all its overwrought backstory, it's just another revenge tale.
Movie Review: Hannibal Rising
As a boy, Hannibal watches the S.S. torment his little sister while they camp out in his family's castle. As a young adult, Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) begins tracking them down one by one, using various implements of torture to extend their suffering. He learns to fight from his aunt (Gong Li) and begins medical school.
This need to explain a serial killer is ridiculous. Hannibal was a classy, brilliant aristocrat who happened to eat the people he killed. Anything they could possibly say about his past is bullsh*t psychobabble. Neat, contrived packages aren't as interesting as ambiguously likeable psychopaths.
And this explanation just proves that when Thomas Harris makes Hannibal the central character of a story, he just doesn't know what to do with him. Harris even wrote the screenplay from his own manuscript, and it shows that without a mystery to solve, Hannibal is just a regular old action hero.
That's right, an action hero, because in Hannibal Rising, he takes down bullies, attacks army men and sets bombs McGyver style. But that's not what we love about Hannibal. Where are the mind games? There's one minor manipulation but he doesn't use his powers of persuasion at all.
Instead, they add ridiculous elements that don't even pay off. How is learning samurai skills in any way relevant to the Hannibal legacy? There's nothing in the adult Hannibal stories that benefits from seeing Hannibal go all Kill Bill.
They have Hannibal try on a mask that looks reminiscent of the famous prison mask, but that's nonsense. The prison mask was designed to keep him from eating people. Seeing him wear some other mask before he's even started eating humans means nothing!
Ulliel seems to enjoy the role, playing up Hannibal's relish for murder. I won't blame the fact that this Hannibal bears no resemblance to Hopkins' famous one on the actor. Clearly they didn't give him any material that leads to a connection. And this isn't like showing Darth Vader as a toddler. Young Hannibal is already killing people so he should be on his way to liver and fava beans.
They've totally made him a hero too. He's only killing bastard war criminals, so there's really no moral ambiguity. In the adult Hannibal movies, you had to really question why you liked him so much when you know what he's done. Sure, you can say he should have waited for due process, but since when do movie audiences not root for revenge?
Hannibal Rising may as well have been a straight to video knock off. It's a totally generic story. I didn't really mind the movie of Hannibal but it's clear Thomas Harris has jumped the shark