Hannibal returns everybody's favorite man-eater to the big screen. Ten years have passed since Lecter first tantalized (and repulsed) the public's imagination in Silence of the Lambs. Doubling the pun on his name, Hannibal Lecter is now an academic lecturer. The effete cannibal lives and works in Florence, Italy. A highly public misstep by F.B.I. agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, this time) has attracted his attentions, just as a doddering Italian policeman (Giancarlo Giannini), seeking the reward for Hannibal's capture, closes in. In this sequel's widened scope, the riveting suspense of its predecessor gets lost. Ray Liotta and Gary Oldman appear in supporting roles that add spice but not cohesion.
Most damaging, the relationship between Starling and Lecter is underdeveloped. Hannibal doesn't attempt to achieve Silence of the Lambs' memorable psychological tension. Director Ridley Scott would have done better to cut Starling's character and start afresh. Reusing Starling may have been possible if Jodie Foster had returned and viewers could pick up from where they left off, but Foster refused the sequel offer. Scott relies on explicit shock elements and overt dramatic actions to compensate for her absence. Less intrigue, more butchery.
He should know better. His 1979 masterpiece Alien changed the space monster/haunted house schemas forever. That happened two decades ago. Scott's most recent movie was Gladiator. Hannibal shares its penchant for visual bombast amidst Old World decadence.
The killer is what saves the film. Lecter has become Hopkins' trademark character, and he revels in the chilling delight of Hannibal's hungry aura. If Hannibal had come before Silence, there would have been no meat for a sequel. For a step in a quieter, more disturbing direction, check out Manhunter. This non-Hopkins movie was the first in the Lecter series, and best captures the spirit of Thomas Harris' source novels.