action, Dexter Sol Ansell, fantasy, Fionnula Flanagan, Francis Lawrence, Hunter Schafer, Jason Schwartzman, Josh Andres Rivera, movies, Peter Dinklage, Rachel Zegler, reviews, Rosa Gotzler, The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Tom Blyth, Viola Davis
November 16, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Culture Representation: Taking place in fictional country of Panem, the fantasy/action film “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” (based on the 2020 novel of the same name) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latin people and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Future villain Coriolanus Snow is tasked with making singer Lucy Gray Baird fail in the brutal life-or-death Hunger Game battle, but he and Lucy Gray unexpectedly fall in love with each other.
Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of fans of “The Hunger Games” franchise, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” will appeal primarily to viewers of fantasy action films that have battles over power, love, and moral ethics.
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is not the type of movie that’s best appreciated by those who have prior knowledge of “The Hunger Games” fantasy books and/or movies. It’s not terrible or great, but this “Hunger Games” prequel has enough thrilling action sequences and interpersonal drama to satisfy most “Hunger Games” fans. Viewers who are unfamiliar with the franchise might be confused or feel disconnected from the story. “The Hunger Games” movies are based on Suzanne Collins’ novels of the same names. These books are geared to a young adult audience.
Directed by Francis Lawrence, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is an origin story for chief “Hunger Games” villain Coriolanus Snow (played by Tom Blyth), the movie’s protagonist. Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt faithfully adapted the movie’s screenplay from Collins’ 2020 novel “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.” It’s an epic book of more than 500 pages, so making it into a movie was certainly a challenge. It’s why “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” movie clocks in at 157 minutes.
Lawrence also directed the the second, third and fourth film in “The Hunger Games” movie series: 2013’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” 2014’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” and 2015’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.” Gary Ross directed 2012’s “The Hunger Games,” the first movie in the series. Donald Sutherland portrayed Coriolanus in those movies.
With a lengthy running time for “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” there are some parts that somewhat dull, but most of the film is engaging enough to maintain viewer interest. In the fictional country of Panem, the Hunger Games is a fairly new barbaric game, where two young people (who are called “tributes”) from each of Panem’s 13 districts have a life-or-death fight until the only person left alive is declared the winner. Spectators from all across Panem witness this brutality, which has large, enthusiastic audiences who enjoy the carnage.
In the beginning of “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” Coriolanus is about 8 years old (played by Dexter Sol Ansell), and his cousin Tigris (played by Rosa Gotzler) is approximately the same age. They are raised more like brother and sister than like cousins. The Snow family is a prominent and wealthy, but their fortunes change when they get the tragic news that Coriolanus’ single father General Crassus Snow was killed in combat during a civil war. Now orphaned, Coriolanus is raised by his beloved grandmother Grandma’am (played by Fionnula Flanagan), who is kindhearted and compassionate.
The movie then fast-forwards about 10 years later. Tigris (played by Hunter Schafer) and Grandma’am say goodbye to when 18-year-old Coriolanus, since he is moving out of the family home to go to a live-in academy. The academy is led by a dean maned Casca Highbottom (played by Peter Dinklage), who is addicted to morphling (a morphine-like drug) that he likes to drink in a small vial. At this point, Coriolanus is no longer wealthy, and he is trying to restore his family’s prestige. Casca does not like the Snow family, for reasons that are explained in the movie.
Coriolanus has been tasked with being the mentor for Lucy Gray Baird (played by Rachel Zegler), who is a tribute from Panem’s 12th district. Dr. Volumnia Gaul (played by Viola Davis) is the callous and authoritarian Head Gamemaker of the Hunger Games. Lucky Flickerman (played by Jason Schwartzman) is the first master of ceremonies for the Hunger Games. Sejanus Plinth (played by Josh Andrés Rivera) becomes Coriolanus’ best friend at the academy.
Lucy Gray is a talented singer (she performs songs, often on acoustic guitar, that are best described as country-tinged pop), so expect to see parts of the movie look almost like a music video with these performance scenes. The songs are generically bland, but Zegler performs these tunes with gusto. It’s not a secret (since it’s revealed in the movie’s trailers) that Lucy and Coriolanus fall in love with each other.
Snakes (including Lucy’s fondness for small snakes) are recurring parts of the story. And the songbird mentioned the most is the mockingjay. There’s also a quick reference to what inspired the first name of Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the first four “Hunger Games” movies. (Jennifer Lawrence, who played Katniss, is not in this movie prequel.)
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” (which was filmed in Poland) has impressive production design in the world of Panem is presented. The acting performances are very good, with Davis playing her villain role to the hilt. Blyth also capably handles his role as the complex Coriolanus, who has a believable personality metamorphosis with this performance.
The chemistry between Blyth and Zegler never feels completely convincing, but considering that Coriolanus eventually becomes corrupt, and Lucy Gray is a good person, these characters were a mismatched couple from the start. action scenes and struggles over loyalty and betrayals are the fuel that keep “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” going when other parts of the movie get dragged down in some monotony.
Lionsgate will release “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” in U.S cinemas on November 17, 2023.