More ‘Hannibal Rising’ than ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

Amid the lukewarm Stateside reception for the new Lecter series are concerns that Mads Mikkelsen’s performance is too understated and lacking in humour

Even the mega-hit ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ has some detractors, so it’s no surprise to learn that there were three negative reviews among the 30 collated by the Metacritic website following last night’s US premiere of the new crime series ‘Hannibal’, which stars Denmark’s most famous actor Mads Mikkelsen in the title role.

But the overall rating of 68 – there were 19 positive reviews and eight mixed ones – will be a little disappointing for producer Bryan Fuller, the creator of ‘Pushing Daisies’, and the NBC network. Given the critical success of some of the Hannibal Lecter films, the series had looked like it could be a sure-fire winner, but now it looks likely to be a question of ratings as to whether it gets a second season.

Broken down, for every negative review  –  “Hannibal is lousy” (Boston Globe) – there were six positive ones, but only one reviewer (People Weekly) gave it full marks. 

Co-starring alongside Mikkelsen are British actor Hugh Dancy (‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’) as FBI agent Will Graham (the central character in ‘Red Dragon’) and established Hollywood star Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford (Clarice Starling’s boss in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’), and the critics were in general agreement that the three of them made a strong team.

Less lauded, however, was the script. “Conceptually, this isn’t half-bad. The writing, unfortunately, is all-bad,” lamented the Miami Herald.

And the New York Times didn’t like the slow pace – presumably it didn’t get the memo about ‘Forbrydelsen’ (‘The Killing’) being the best crime series ever.  “Those who don’t find Hannibal fatally slow and pretentious can stick around to enjoy the superior production values and the stylishness of the pilot, directed by David Slade with an ominous suggestiveness reminiscent of David Fincher,” it noted.

And it was a little nonplussed by Mikkelsen, calling him “so spectacularly inexpressive that he’s practically the anti-Hopkins”, adding: “When he gazes at a victim, you’re not sure whether he’s debating sauté versus roast or trying to remember where he parked.”

In general, the newspapers appreciated that following Anthony Hopkins in the role was a tall order and that it was no surprise to see Mikkelsen give an understated performance.

However, several thought that he went too far. “Mikkelsen plays Lecter almost completely devoid of humour − which is a huge problem,” wrote the Los Angeles Times.

“‘Hannibal’ relies instead on one big inside joke: the audience's knowledge of the killer's proclivities. While for fans of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ there is some pleasure in gathering the canonical Easter eggs planted throughout the series, for the most part ‘Hannibal’ suffers from the same fatal flaw as its main character: it takes itself so seriously that it's no fun at all.”

Viewers in Denmark will be able to make up their mind when the first episode, the aptly-titled ‘Apéritif’, screens on Sunday April 14 on Kanal 5.