The latest Hunger Games movie is worth watching, especially for fans of the franchise
It’s been a rough second half of the year for Hollywood. From the numerous strikes, box-office bombs, and worst of all, the sheer quantity of bad movies, taking the time to go and sit in a theater has become a rare occurrence for most movie-lovers. Luckily, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has created an all-round entertaining theatre experience for fans of the series.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: the movie’s title. I hate overly long movie names, and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes — which I will refer to as BSS — is one of the worst offenders since the Birds of Prey movie. I understand that it’s the book’s title, but that doesn’t entirely excuse this mess of a mouthful. And that brings me to another important point, source material. I’m judging BSS on its merits as a film only, not as an adaptation of Suzanne Collins novel.
BSS is a prequel to The Hunger Games that tells the tale of President Snow before he was president. Coriolanus Snow (who I could have sworn was named Cornelius) is the mentor of District 12’s Lucy Gray Baird in the 10th annual Hunger Games. Lionsgate played it smart, bringing back experienced director Francis Lawrence, who has taken the helm of all The Hunger Games movies thus far. He utilized the $100 million budget well, resulting in a product that looks better than most of the 250 million plus releases of this year.
The almost entirely unknown (to me at least) Tom Blyth gives a stand-out performance as Snow, making me feel very empathetic toward this soon-to-be tyrannical ruler. The rest of the cast doesn’t disappoint either, although it’s hard to believe that almost any of these adult actors are teenagers. It’s all the rage to hate on Rachel Zegler, but the only thing to dislike about her in BSS is her out of place southern accent. Her singing chops are utilized thoroughly, although the number of songs included does feel a little excessive by the end.
Hunter Schafer is wonderful as always, although her character is criminally underutilized. Peter Dinklage and Viola Davis both bring their star-power to the screen, fully committing to their somewhat over the top characters. Jason Shwartzman is the pastiche comic relief, who elicits a few genuine laughs in this otherwise somber film. Take notes Disney leave the comedy to the comedic characters. Josh Andrés Rivera also does an acceptable job portraying Sejanus, Coriolanus’ comrade. (Seriously, what is up with Suzanne Collins’ naming conventions.)
If you aren’t a devoted Hunger Games fan, you might have a hard time enjoying BSS. There is the occasional fan-service element shoe-horned into the story, which is to be expected with a prequel. The movie also wastes no time and jumps right into the story, assuming you already know what this dystopian world is all about. But let’s be honest, who hasn’t seen The Hunger Games? If you have, the plot of BSS is pleasantly easy to follow for how engaging and thought-provoking it is. However, there are a few pivotal scenes that unfold very quickly, and if you happen to be running to the bathroom while they happen, you’ll be left scratching your head.
The movie’s extensive two-hour-and-38-minute runtime is split into three chapters. Although the movie is nearly three hours long, I never found myself wondering when it would be over. The consistent pacing of the first two chapters transforms almost completely in the third act. It becomes a much smaller-scale and character-focused film, diving deeper into Snow’s character and intricacies with long, personal scenes. It almost feels like BSS is two separate films put together, but this isn’t to its detriment.
I was beyond surprised to learn that this film carries a PG rating. If someone told me that it is 14A, I would easily believe it. There are children being shot, mercy-killed, hanged, and literally crucified left right and centre. However, if you’re a fan of The Hunger Games’ world-building, violence, and moral dilemmas, then The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the perfect thing to watch when you have a Sunday afternoon with nothing else to do.