Disclaimer: This review may contain spoilers.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is an intensely important prequel to the Hunger Games series, dating back to the first film in 2012. “A little hope is effective,” says Donald Sutherland’s character, President Snow, in the opening film. “A lot of hope is dangerous.” But, I didn’t feel hope for the people in this film like I had for Katniss and Peeta in the previous games. Yet, director Francis Lawrence’s new Hunger Games film isn’t necessarily about hope for the tributes; it’s about Snow’s long and triumphant rise to victory.
This prequel takes place during the tenth annual games in the Capitol of Panem, where Snow (Tom Blyth), as we knew in previous films, is just 18 years old.
This time, the ambitious mentor is assigned to District 12 songbird Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) in the reaping. As their relationship progresses, the stress of the games, the attention from outside rebels, and the melding of new roles reform Snow’s alliances and outlook on the Capitol.
Some of the best parts of the film came from Viola Davis’ sinister portrayal of the game designer, Dr. Volumnia Gaul, and Blyth’s handsome performance as a young villain which thrilled the Hunger Games aficionados, I’m sure.
Yet, he never fully reaches his character’s maximum potential. There is almost always something that seems inconsistent, albeit his intentional wavering motives throughout his time as both a mentor and peacekeeper. And I’d argue the same for Zegler’s colourful and unconventional character which is never fully fleshed out, even in the film’s last moments.
The story carried itself perfectly, only until its interruption with arbitrary outbursts from characters and the peculiar forced murder scene. But, I suppose that’s always been the goal with these movies. For such a long film, a lot is still left up for interpretation such as the viewers’ expectations for the game; Snow’s multifaceted relationships with the Panem people; and Lucy Gray’s true feelings for Coriolanus. We know that she’s the songbird, but does that make him the snake?
The movie is a complex enigma of visually perfect settings and locations, but slightly lacking in commentary; it’s all style and no substance. The story offers a new perspective into President Snow’s life and the early stages of Panem; but not without Lucy Gray’s lovely, but overdone, singing and a lukewarm — at best — depiction of the districts in a post-war setting.
Although predictable, Lawrence’s new film was certainly powerful for the Hunger Games community. It’s said that the games exist to punish the districts and remind them of who holds the power, but shows a substantially opposing view: one that proves just how far the Capitol is willing to go to put on a good show.
Yet, it’s not all bad. The game’s attention-grabbing host Lucky Flickerman’s (Jason Schwartzman) quick wit had me laughing throughout Part II, and the action-packed scenes held my attention for the almost three-hour film. From afar, the prequel is naturally stunning and visually enticing, but up close, it’s deprived of the intelligence and vulnerability that we saw in its predecessors.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes isn’t a failed risk for the series like some are saying, but rather just another book-to-film adaptation of the dystopian and futuristic zeitgeist. The film isn’t anything life changing, but it is a crucial instrument to tie together the first three films and fill in the blanks — blanks that so many of us have waited for over a decade to see unfold.