The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes Review

The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes
To save his family name, Coriolanus Snow (Blyth) mentors tribute Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler) in the tenth annual Hunger Games.

by Hanna Flint |
Published on
Release Date:

17 Nov 2023

Original Title:

The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes

Susan Sontag once wrote, “Good novels rarely make good films, but excellent films are often made from poor or trivial novels.” Unfortunately, The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes — based on the 2020 prequel novel by Suzanne Collins — is a case of the former. Best described as an adaptive exercise in cinematic skim-reading, returning director Francis Lawrence delivers a disappointingly edge-free and largely superficial villain origin story.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes

It’s set largely in the Capitol of the dystopian post-war nation of Panem, where Art Deco meets Weimar Republic aesthetic, and high-fashion tailoring bolsters the world-building. But there’s no real sense of scale as the city rebuilds in the periphery. The focus is the tenth annual Hunger Games, where a fresh batch of children must battle to the death. This first act is leaden with exposition, served up via on-the-nose dialogue with the overarching themes of totalitarianism and the banality of evil.

Jason Schwartzman does give a scene-stealing turn as ’50s-style host Lucky Flickerman.

Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) — decades before becoming President — is a star student at the Gossip Girl-esque Academy. Struggling to hide his family’s financial troubles and retain his social standing, the character is presented like a misunderstood matinée idol rather than a manipulative rogue with a superiority complex. His complicated motivations are barely conveyed — especially when his fate is tied to earnest classmate Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera) and Manic Pixie Dream Tribute Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler).

Zegler, for her part, gets a chance to belt out her own Dixie Chicks-esque rendition of ‘The Hanging Tree’, the song Katniss famously sings in Mockingjay — Part 1, but it is one of many moments replicating the original films, ringing hollow in comparison; Lucy Gray seems mainly there to push Snow’s plot forward.

With some darkly comic asides, Jason Schwartzman does give a scene-stealing turn as ’50s-style host Lucky Flickerman, and Viola Davis has fun, too, as diabolical Gamemaker Dr Volumnia Gaul; but Peter Dinklage never quite leaves an impression as Academy Dean Casca Highbottom. The third act gives a glimpse of the dictator Snow has to inevitably become — but for a two-hour, 38-minute character study, it’s too little, too late.

It has a few laughs and some stylish outfits, but this is unfortunately a shallow prequel, one which fails to breathe new life into the Hunger Games franchise.
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