Featuring: Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Jason Schwartzman and Viola Davis
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller, War
Director: Francis Lawrence
In Cinemas: Now
Sixty-four years before Katniss Everdeen volunteered as tribute and decades before Coriolanus Snow became the tyrannical President of Panem. THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES follows a young Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) who is the last hope for his failing lineage, the once-proud Snow family that has fallen from grace in a post-war Capitol. With his livelihood threatened, Snow is reluctantly assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a tribute from the impoverished District 12. But after Lucy Gray’s charm captivates the audience of Panem, Snow sees an opportunity to shift their fates. With everything he has worked for hanging in the balance, Snow unites with Lucy Gray to turn the odds in their favour. Battling his instincts for both good and evil, Snow sets out on a race against time to survive and reveal if he will ultimately become a songbird or a snake.
Francis Lawrence again takes the reigns in his fourth time directing for the Hunger Games franchise, with Catching Fire being his first. His latest offering is aimed at families and fans of the books, but in certain moments in this film, it can be very dark. This will become muddled for audiences unfamiliar with Hunger Games or who have yet to see the previous films and might leave you feeling a little disorientated. From the start of the tenth annual Hunger Games, the characters are introduced rapidly and consistently, which requires attention. In addition to Snow (Blyth) and Gray (Zegler), we meet the Inventor of the Hunger Games, Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage). Viola Davis gives an acentric and mad performance as Dr. Volumnia Gaul, which, in essence, can be unnecessary, excessive, and very similar to Elizabeth Banks’s role in the previous four movies. Many of the main characters in the film’s first half are explained very well, and it is always done so subtly, and it is scarce to see, especially in a big blockbuster like this. The development and slow pacing into the backstories of our leads give us the knowledge needed to understand their position better when we meet them first.
When the posh capitol kids have to mentor the tributes during the games for the first time, there is always that sense of unfamiliarity when approaching the situation. Some people are happy about it, and some are not. Coriolanus Snow (Blyth) shows empathy towards Lucy Gray (Zegler) and the other contestants, and he proposes changes to make the Hunger Games better in terms of caring about the people who are going to fight each other, which doesn’t precisely fit when certain death is the ultimate conclusion in this last person standing battle. Unlike the previous films, we get a longer and stronger glimpse into the capitol, and it gives us the best insight we ever had into the future and present running of the Hunger Games, which is explored well here. When we eventually get to the games, it is a bare and stripped-down version compared to the previous films. It has to elevate and escalate to what we see in those instalments, but it is still entertaining to watch. It is brutal, as expected, and we don’t get to know the lesser-known characters as much; when they get killed, there is no compassion or remorse because we don’t know too much about them.
Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth show great chemistry between each other, and Zegler will be regarded as the highlight for the franchise fan base aspect alone, coming from District 12 of Panem. Some CGI could be more stable and accurate throughout the 157-minute runtime, and it always becomes a little distracting and ultimately brings up flashbacks to a specific DC comic movie released in the summer of 2023. At times, the film feels overly ambitious, as if too much information and plot lines were squeezed into something that had the potential to be two separate movies. Those critical and tender moments are rushed as the film compacts every detail essential to the story. Every time Lucky Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman) is on screen, it becomes much more exciting and fun; he brings a lot of creative humour and delight to the character. THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES is catered to the true fans of the film franchise and books, but at times, that can be a little lost on those who aren’t up to speed. But it is still a great spectacle and has excellent musical numbers.