#REVIEW: “THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES”
By Mr. Will Wong
Set some 64 years prior to the events of The Hunger Games Trilogy that we love and adore, THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES tells the origins story of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth). Following the death of his father, he must now take care of his surviving family including Grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) and cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafer) in the aftermath of a long destructive war in which the Capitol was under siege. Coriolanus, based on strong academic performance and business accumen, is called upon to mentor Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler) from District 12 in the tenth edition of the Hunger Games. On paper, she wouldn’t stand a chance at winning being a Singer living a nomadic life and few fighting skills. Under a repressive regime and strict surveillance, Coriolanus must ensure Lucy survives these vicious games, ensuring he wins the monetary prize which could save him and his once powerful family from poverty. Along the way, he and Lucy both get more than they set out for, falling for one another, upping the stakes even higher for them to make it out alive. They are caught in a struggle to survive in a world where rules are rigid and deviation can result in fatal consequences.
Though this latest entry doesn’t have the same level of dazzle that the other three films in the Franchise possess, we are drawn back into Author Suzanne Collins‘ fantastical world all the same. Francis Lawrence once again takes us into the mind of our physically and mentally embattled hero. We get a portrait of a promising young man of sound judgment and heart who becomes a product of his surroundings. He is forced to make choices in the name of survival, protecting the one he loves and his family. We see what having to survive does to him and its ripple effects on his relationships, en route to him becoming the eventual tyrannical President of Panem – the man whom Katniss Everdeen one day would take down.
While this Prequel, split into Three Acts, admittedly feels too long at 160 minutes, this truly serves those fans hungry for more after a nine-year gap between films. The pacing moves well in the first two Acts and at this point we already would have been left satisfied, only to realize there still is a whole other movie to come exploring how Coriolanus goes dark. I wouldn’t have complained if this Film were split into two parts as it covers a lot of ground.
That being said, Blyth in a breakout performance is captivating start to finish, even if his transformation late in the Film feels a beat rushed. We have known Corioulanus Snow very much as a villain all along, but Blyth humanizes him as he navigates themes of loyalty, love and staying alive. Zegler gets a chance to showcase her talents vocally with the role requiring her to sing throughout and it is interesting that this Adaptation is faithful to many of the lyrics which Lucy sings in Collins‘ book. It is the Film’s older Cast members though who are remarkable. Viola Davis is terrifying as Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul, and Peter Dinklage brings great presence as Casca Highbottom, Dean of the Academy and Author of the Games, a man asserting his power and coping with addiction. Jason Schwartzman is pitch-perfect as the self-absorbed and comical Host of the Games, Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman.
THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES gives fans their long-awaited feast. Though it is not without issues, it still serves many of the same ingredients that fans love of the Franchise. Cineplex Pictures release it in theatres November 17, 2023.