From a hanging tree to reapings to mockingjays and rebellions, The Hunger Games certainly left a staple no one can dismiss. Based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling series, the original quadrilogy followed Katniss Everdeen’s journey against the overbearing decadence against Coriolanus Snow’s rule. However, fans have never really gotten to know the man behind the Capitol’s evils, previously played by Donald Sutherland. Luckily, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes fills in that narrative gap with such tenacity.
Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows the origins of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) and his inevitable rise to Panem’s claim. However, after being assigned a Hunger Games mentee in the form of young Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), he slowly finds a new sense of humanity. Supported by his friend Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera) and his cousin Tigris Snow (Hunter Schafer), Coriolanus and Lucy must face the odds in order to survive the Games and the future.
As always, The Hunger Games is able to capture some of the best performances, like with Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, and the chemistry between Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler works beautifully. Blyth’s dominant, yet thoughtful personality and Zegler’s kindhearted, yet rebellious attitude magically intertwine in a way that allows them to both shine together and separately. There are so many scenes where they work well together, particularly around the second act, where their shared tension and intensity bears a lot of emotion. Plus, Zegler’s folk-inspired singing, best picked up from Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, is very impressive given her decision to do things on-set.
The rest of the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes cast is also great: Josh Andrés Rivera holds so much of the emotional weight, Hunter Schafer intricately changes although be it off-screen, Viola Davis and Peter Dinklage are creepily cunning as the Capitol’s schoolmasters, and Jason Schwartzman’s comedic relief is just a joy to watch. Hell, even some of the tributes are given screen time to form their own personalities, albeit on a basic level. Overall, each actor brings their own gravitas to their characters, supplementing the stakes of the story in their own way.
The film also grasps the ferocious action The Hunger Games is best known for. Each fast-paced action scene makes an expert use of environment and weaponry as Lucy harrowingly escapes and avoids an untimely demise at the hands of the other tributes. In the more subtle, character-driven scenes, the cinematography naturally paces itself to give the viewer a sense of compassion for some tributes as the choices made really hit hard.
As for the story itself, it holds strong in its first two acts as the movie makes its splitting obvious. These two acts, which showcase Coriolanus’ care for Lucy and their fights throughout the Games, allows for both characters to grow in a way that’s resonant for those looking to find their own belonging. This film’s presentation of empathy, sacrifice, and honor is meticulous in forging Coriolanus since he constantly remains conflicted whether he wants to be rebel everyone calls him as or do what’s “right” for Panem. Lucy Gray Baird is the needed element that drives these thoughts into Coryo as her emotional moments during the Games fully encompass a need for true peace.
Unfortunately, where Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes‘ story thrives somewhat falters in its final act. The story’s rush to narratively get Coriolanus to embody his older dictator self causes the heartfelt build-up between him, Lucy, and their friends to lose its residual impact. This is especially in the scenes shared with Coriolanus and Sejanus, whose friendship remained enticingly pivotal throughout was hung short. This is most likely due to the movie’s need to characterize the other tributes in its mid-second half, which is good to see, but it also decreases the potential to maintain that emotional flow given the second part’s resounding climax.
Overall, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a terrific and fantastic addition to Lionsgate’s live-action world inspired by Suzanne Collins’ original novels. Through a clever blend of high-stakes action and serene and intense character moments, this adaptation of Coriolanus Snow’s rise to power stands tall even if its third act nearly runs off. Whatever the future holds for this adaptation of The Hunger Games, the odds are definitely in its favor.
Rating – 8.5/10
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will release in theaters on November 17.