This is embarrassing. See, I like Hannibal Lecter. I can't think of a more iconic figure created that late in art history. His haunting and theatrical portrayal by Anthony Hopkins created a monstrous body of work that goes way beyond the novels of Thomas Harris and their subsequent movie adaptations. Every serial killer character in last twenty years' fiction is partly drawn from Lecter and serial killers have been the main antagonists in thrillers and horror genres both. I like him because he is charming, educated, talented, vain, smarter than I am, snob and inflicted with half a dozen personality disorders. Unfortunately for me, I found non of these traits in HANNIBAL RISING. Over this review, I will try to understand who is responsible for this, but what happened is clear: This is what happens when you create art only to answer fans demand. HANNIBAL RISING is nothing like RED DRAGON, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or HANNIBAL. It's self-satisfied entertainment.
Prequels have been hot for the last few years.Was there a more intriguing character than Hannibal Lecter to create a background story with? What made him like this? Right? RIGHT? Lecter lived in a Lithuanian castle as a child, until Nazis invaded his country. Soon, the country is torn apart between German and Soviet forces and the Lecter family, hiding in their hunting lodge are surprised by fugitive Nazi soldiers and the parents are murdered. The winter is rather cruel in this part of the world, so food soon runs out for the soldiers, little Hannibal (Aaran Thomas) and his sister Mischa (Helena-Lia Tachovska). The Nazis being soulless, evil bastards as usual set their sights on Mischa and decide to kill and eat her. Little Hannibal eventually runs away from the hunting lodge, is rescued by Soviet soldiers and place into an orphanage, which is ironically in Lecter Castle. Reaching the age of reason, young Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) has one thing in mind, hunting the big, bad wolves.
When I watch mixed martial arts and dislike both fighters going at it, I root for the referee. This is how I felt watching HANNIBAL RISING, except there was no referee to root for and I ended up rooting for Dominic West to finally shed the awesome ghost of Jimmy McNulty, which he failed to do (in this movie, at least). The problem is that Hannibal is killing Nazis in this movie. This is the most inconsequential form of murder since...well...World War II. Who's going to call you a psycho if you kill Nazis? Nobody. They are probably the human being getting murdered the most in narrative art since the fall of the Reich. Video games have been dedicated to mass murder of Nazi zombies. Everybody (except maybe white power skinheads) agree that they were evil. That also makes them very boring to kill.
So you can't call Hannibal Lecter a psycho for going after Nazis. That makes him a morally dubious vigilante at best, like Batman. Except that Lecter doesn't have a kickass costume, a colorful supporting cast of villain that symbolize more than what they are, a decaying, nightmarish urban landscape or any of the goodness that makes Bruce Wayne interesting. He's just a boyish man killing nazis. The silly faces Gaspard Ulliel does while killing them don't help. He has an aunt, who I suppose is his stand-in for Alfred and who is interpreted by the beautiful Li Gong. Quite frankly, I didn't understand why she took such an important place in the storyline. Maybe it's cleared in the novel, I don't know. All she seemed to do is get Hannibal horny and get herself predictably kidnapped even if she is obviously a badass martial arts. That desire, by the way, never went overboard and never gets even consumed, which is in-line with the old Lecter character, but bizarre for a young man full of hormones. The character of Lady Murasaki was his aunt by marriage, so she could have very well been his teacher of Earthly pleasures.
Not singling out an individual aspect of the movie (except maybe Ulliel's performance) was a conscious decision on my part. I didn't know what to say about the script, except that it goes through the same, boring, predictable platitudes that most movies about revenge do. The dispossessed badass goes after the big wig with revenge in his heart, gains something in the process but that precious thing is threatened by the frightened but powerful enemy, blah, blah. blaaah...A movie like COMMANDO, ironically hailed as the most unsubtle film in history, has a much more clever way of handling such a classic story line. Hannibal Lecter is just not meant to be a good guy. He's meant to play on the fence of morality for his own amusement. He needs to be above whatever is going on around him. Looking for the "expansive horizon", as John McAfee would say, while others are nose first into a grinding, dangerous reality. That's not the case in HANNIBAL RISING. You could change its title to "Revenge of a Deranged Young Man" and change the protagonist name to Sandis Ozolinsh and it would have been the same movie *.
* Maybe not. There is one detail that ties the movie to the other Hannibal stories and it's rather silly. He tries on a samurai warrior mask, which is aesthetically similar to the iconic, don't-bite-people mask he's wearing in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. That actually suggest that wearing this mask during his psychiatric institutionalization is a vanity of his, rather than a precautionary measure.