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Review: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Francis Lawrence.
  • Producers: Nina Jacobson, Francis Lawrence and Brad Simpson.
  • Screenplay by: Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt.
  • Cinematographer: Jo Willems.
  • Music by: James Newton Howard.

Synopsis: origin story of Coriolanus Snow, the main villain of The Hunger Games.

Shotgun Commentary: this film follows a long tradition of disappointing sequels with way too much budget for marketing.

A young girl and a boy laying on the grass. Frame for the review of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) and Lucy (Rachel Zegler) on a picnic. Source: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (Frances Lawrence, 2023).

Review

This prequel of The Hunger Games is…unnecessary. The idea of delving into Coriolanus Snow’s past and how he became so heartless is fascinating and, while I didn’t have high hopes for the film (I never do with sequels, prequels, and other ramifications of any film), I did expect better. Especially after the first two parts of the movie, which are overall entertaining and intense. You hope that the story will keep it up. However, it deflates pitifully into a long, boring, overused and repetitive toxic love story that serves more as a portfolio for Rachel Zegler’s singing career than it does as a half-decent film.

President Rain at best

As previously mentioned, the exploration of Snow’s past is a concept from which great stories could have been brought to life. The fact that he becomes a horrible person because he is hungry, while hilarious, relatable and very apropos of the saga’s name, doesn’t feel worthy of the original Snow (Donald Sutherland), whose mere presence on screen made the hairs on the back of your neck raise.

A young boy and a girl looking at each other intensely. Frame for the review of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Coriolanus and Lucy. Source: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (Frances Lawrence, 2023).

The film doesn’t really give an explanation as to how or when he becomes President Snow and barely graces the subject of poisoning, which was one of the most interesting parts of his behaviour. Instead, you see a young man who has a hard life and uses it as an excuse for his bad actions. What you don’t see is where this behaviour comes from or what caused it. The film just wants you to assume that he was evil inside since birth, and that certain circumstances just bring it out more and more. Lazy writing who?

The Peckish Games

And talking about things that are mercilessly destroyed from previous storylines, the following two examples. Much like the original trilogy did with the book’s “pin of the mockingjay” story, this instalment completely destroys two of the things I held most dear from the original literary works: the meaning of the white roses and that of The Hanging Tree song.

Lucy in the arena. Source: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (Frances Lawrence, 2023).

The lazy, stereotypical explanations for both are downright offensive when compared to their real meaning. The background and meaning of the white roses is laughable compared to their sinister purpose in the original trilogy.

Transforming something beautiful and pure into a corrupt and nauseous symbol is a common psychological warfare tactic, and it is used brilliantly in the original trilogy. The way white roses are treated in this instalment is plain and predictable, providing yet another example of what happens when you refuse to accept the end of a story and instead try to keep milking it regardless of your lack of original ideas.

The odds are not in our favour

It might seem like the roses were the worst bit, but not even close. What The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes does to The Hanging Tree song is way worse. In a very Snow fashion, the nod to the song begins in an incredibly promising way, giving the audience hope that it would just be a subtle wink to the musical piece through visual representation. Then, that hope is snuffed, leaving you frustrated and dejected.

A girl looking very intensely to something off camera. Frame for the review of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Lucy. Source: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
(Frances Lawrence, 2023).

The scene that prompts the song is gorgeous. It is tragic and dramatic, and the cinematography is on point. That alone would have been the perfect reference to the song. Sadly, the film falls in the common mistake of underestimating its audience and over-explaining. Not only that, but completely erases the dark meaning of the song, turning it into just another track to add to Zegler’s musical portfolio.

So much, so little

Nevertheless, the idea of boosting Zegler’s singing might not be bad at all, especially considering how average and forgettable her performance is. It remains unclear whether it is the character itself or the actress, but Lucy Gray Baird falls short. Tigris (Hunter Schafer) is a lot more engaging and likeable in two sentences of weird whispering.

Tigris (Hunter Schafer). Source: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (Frances Lawrence, 2023).

As for Coriolanus (Tom Blyth), the only true protagonist regardless of what the film was marketed as, his character is very interesting to follow, even through the most cliché events. Blyth’s acting is incredible up until he has to cry more than two tears. Then, it becomes awkward and a bit cringy, but it is a small hitch in an otherwise satisfactory performance.

Missing the mark

It is a bit disappointing that such a great female-lead franchise switches back to a male protagonist. It feels like it’s missing something. Because of its past and promotion, you expect a strong female presence, but all the female characters are just decorations or catalysts. They are accessories for the development of Snow, but not very relevant at all, which is a bit of a let-down.

All in all, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes has the same problem with the title as it has with the content, half of it is redundant.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • If it’s not a musical nor a singer’s biopic, three sung songs are already two too many.
  • Drama and controversy won’t make you a better actor.
  • If a story is finished, let it be, use your imagination, and DON’T STEP ON THE ORIGINAL STORY.
Coriolanus gives Lucy a white rose. Source: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (Frances Lawrence, 2023).

What’s your take? Have you watched The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes yet? What do you think of it? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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