Hannibal must be judged on its own merits, not compared to The Silence of the Lambs. However, Hannibal isn't very good; certainly not as good as it predecessor. It seems--in honour of the title character--this reviewer has already eaten her words.
In Hannibal, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Anthony Hopkins revives Hannibal Lecter with relish, Julianne Moore makes a great Clarice Starling and red-hot director Ridley Scott is at the helm. Despite being awash in talent, Hannibal feels completely uninspired. Low on suspense, it lacks the insidious quality that is the lifeblood of a psychological thriller. The perverse intellectual and sexual interplay between Lecter and Starling is missing the crackle the audience expects after seeing The Silence of the Lambs. Ancillary characters and subplots limit their exchanges and drain the film of vibrancy. Clearly, someone forgot that Hannibal and Clarice are the only interesting characters.
Anticipation for Hannibal is high, so no pertinent plot points will be revealed here. In this installment, Hannibal is free and languishes in Florence, sipping espresso and lecturing on Dante. Clarice is in Washington, watching her career crumble. Each still harbors a fascination for the other, which is intriguing when it manages to shoehorn its way onscreen.
There are other characters, including one of Lecter's disfigured victims, who have reasons to chase him. The subplots are dull, save Clarice's fall from glory. Under fire from the media and her FBI bosses, Moore marvelously captures Clarice's frustration as her career slips away. Moore's Clarice is feisty and single--a welcome addition to a film fumbling for a purpose.
In a thriller the villain is crucial, and few fictional madmen have achieved Lecter's status. In this film unfortunately, Lecter goes from creepy to campy. He doesn't appear until 30 minutes into the picture, and when he does, Ridley Scott blows the chance for a great entrance by revealing him from under the brim of his hat. This is Hannibal Lecter, not Kate Winslet in Titanic, and the entrance should be at least as clever as the character.
Lecter utters phrases like, "Okey dokey" and "goody, goody," and is forced to wear outfits that were last seen in La Dolce Vita. This only succeeds in degrading and demystifying Lecter, which severely undermines the character. Despite the numerous gaffes of the filmmakers, Hopkins still manages to deliver a great performance.
The gore factor in this film has received much attention, and will likely draw a few teenage boys to the multiplex. In Hannibal, gruesome sequences often substitute for genuine thrills. The last moments will be controversial, but the screenplay leaves a worse aftertaste than the violence. On the shallowest of levels, Hannibal can be entertaining. I'm not recommending it, but that hardly matters.
It's practically a franchise now, and people will eat it up--pardon the pun.