Ah, so we finally learn why Hannibal Lecter, a la "Silence of the Lambs" is so goofy -- bad childhood. Leap back to Lithuania, 1944, as the Nazis are closing in; the family flees to a little cottage in a clearing, easily found by opposing Russian tank drivers. There, the tank crew marches the family outside (except young Hannibal and his kid sister Mischa), a Nazi plane attacks, killing everyone but the kids.
Sure, traumatic, but that's war. Let's toss in some local looter/thug types, cold and hungry from the ravages of war, and give Mischa pneumonia. With a quick recipe (no pun intended) for cannibalism, we learn through Hannibal's nightmares and a sodium pentathol-induced flashback that Mischa became dinner for the band of outlaws.
So far, so dull. I found the premise only remotely plausible, heck, it's widely held the Donner Party ate their own when crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1846, though none became an evil villain nemesis of Agent Starling. We have a smattering of blood and torture here and there, just to keep the gore-hungry populous at bay.
Hannibal travels from Lithuania to France, and finds the widow of his uncle, a cutie woman who's all to happy to accept a strange guy into the house, kills a bloke or two, but the clever police inspector can't seem to put one and one together to get himself a suspect, though Hannibal is clearing daring him to figure it out.
Hannibal gets into medical school, youngest admission yet, but on a work scholarship, so he gets to tend to bodies to prep them for student studies. Good news: the kid thought mute in the orphanage has now developed pretty good English, spoken with a French accent. (Y'know, the accent that's clearly British later in life; though we figure that can be explained with a future plot device of his being educated at Oxford or some such thing).
In defense of Gaspard Ulliel, English isn't his first language. In observation of casting decisions, maybe an actor who's first language is English, heck, go nuts and find someone with a British accent to boot. (Surely we could have such senseless in the moors of Wales or something, but so much easier to put them on the Eastern front during the war, eh?)
The film has all the earmarks of a prequel, written for the purpose of camping onto the success of an earlier film. That itself is its greatest failing, I think. The characters have big shoes to fill, the budget isn't necessarily going to buy you a knighted Oscar winner, and like so many films that don't try too hard, they're filming in Eastern Bloc nations (and France, but you get the point).
I wasn't disappointed with 'Hannibal Rising,' but at the same time, I walked in expecting very little. The critics were far from kind, and with any prequel, it's not easy erasing the later story characters and their traits. The revenge thing doesn't really go far enough to explain why, after all those who did wrong by Mischa were dead, why he'd go to change gears from a medical doctor to a psychiatrist (oops, too specific with what *type* of doctor?), why he did the things he did to his patients, and the like.
We're left with Hannibal being an angry little guy with an accent prone to a midlife crisis (and shift), not much minding getting some blood on his lapels and having an extraordinary ability to Houdini his way out of seemingly fatal situations, only to remain victorious. (At least that carries forward, as we see the retiree Hannibal flee from custody in 'Silence' some 40 years after this prequel is set to take place.)
If you can overlook the convenience of several plot points, you can probably have a pretty okay time with 'Rising.'