Birth of a madman

Rated 3.0

Apparently we can’t get enough of this Hannibal Lecter character. Where did he come from? What made him the murderous, cannibalistic monster he is? Finally, with the latest installment of a franchise that started in 1986 (Michael Mann took the first stab at Hannibal with Manhunter), we get those answers. And although a bit clichéd (prequels themselves are becoming a bit clichéd these days), they present a mostly satisfying ending—err … beginning—to the saga.

In this story, we meet Hannibal as a young boy in Lithuania. The Lecters take refuge during the war in the remote countryside, and when the Nazis and Russians find their hiding place, Hannibal’s parents are gunned down. That leaves Hannibal and his sister, Mischa, alone—that is, until a band of looters, led by Grutas (an out-of-comedic-character Rhys Ifans), bust in and take over. When they can’t find any food, they look around for something meaty—and since Mischa has pneumonia ….

Hannibal eventually escapes, goes to boarding school and later heads to France to live with his uncle’s widow, Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li). It’s not long before he begins his killing career. And who better to murder and devour than the bastards who ate his sister?

Here’s where the plot meanders into clichéd revenge-movie territory, with Hannibal merely hunting down Grutus’ gang. Lady Murasaki does little to stop him, and neither does Inspector Popil (Dominic West), the cop on the case. Hannibal doesn’t even face any real inner turmoil. This missing conflict makes for a severe lack of suspense—perhaps the film’s biggest downside.

Gaspard Ulliel, who plays the adult Hannibal, does a decent job at being supremely slimy—mostly by glaring with a slight snarl on his face—but he in no way resembles Anthony Hopkins. Of course, that is the hardest part of franchises, and while Hannibal Rising doesn’t quite stack up to the others (none can beat Silence of the Lambs), it does a lick better than most other prequels these days.