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Review: The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes' Is An Epic Villain Origin Story

The Hunger Games movies have probably become one of the most successful sagas of the last few years, and now the story and excitement have returned with The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, a new prequel film that centers on the younghood of Coriolanus Snow, president of Panem on the original films.

Therefore, the story takes place decades before we get to witness Katniss and Peeta’s story, and it focuses on a young Coriolanus Snow, portrayed by Tom Blyth. With the 10th annual Hunger Games about to begin, Mr. Snow is assigned as the new mentor of the female tribute of District 12, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler). 

As someone who was obsessed with The Hunger Games back when the original films came out, I was particularly excited to see this movie, especially because the character of President Snow has always been a very interesting and complex figure. I was looking forward to understanding why he was the way he was, why he had so much evil inside and why he hated Katniss Everdeen that much. Fortunately, I got most of my answers.

My expectations were quite high, and I’m happy to say that they were exceeded. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is nothing like the previous films, and it was so refreshing to revisit an old story that looked like nothing I’ve seen before in the saga. The movie is way more violent, not necessarily in terms of real fighting or action, but in terms of morale and ambition.

The characters are willing to do anything to stay in their positions and become more powerful. If we thought the Capitol was an awful place, this time it’s worse. We don’t need to see the lavish costumes and eccentricities of its population because here, social class distinction wasn’t that evident. Instead, the discrimination comes from hate, and there doesn’t seem to be an explanation. The rich people from the Capitol hate people from the Districts, and that’s pretty much it. It would be nice to see in the future a story of The Hunger Games that explains what happened during the war because it feels like that side of the story is still a loose end. 

At first, Coriolanus Snow comes as a young man, alone and looking for a place to which he belongs. He actually seems like a nice person, and that’s probably why this film was so interesting, how can someone like him turn into such a despicable person? Well, Tom Blyth does an amazing job at portraying young Snow. Not only he is an amazing choice as a younger version of the character previously portrayed by Donald Sutherland, but he also manages to express with such ease the transformation the character goes through in the story. As he gets involved in the games and starts spending time with Lucy Gray Baird, his priorities and convictions change. For moments, he exposes his true self: a violent man in search of power, and that’s when you start noticing that maybe he’s never been a good person, he was just trying to suppress the evil inside him. As the famous line says: “It’s the things we love most that destroy us”, and Snow is not willing to let anyone take the power he very much desires from him.

Let’s talk about Lucy Gray Baird now. Rachel Zegler has become one of the most renowned names in the industry, especially after her break-out performance in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake. Lucy Gray is a singer in the film, and so It was pretty obvious that we were going to get some musical numbers from the actress, who has proven that she has a very beautiful voice. However, the film includes, in my opinion, too many (unnecessary) musical moments. Yes, we know that Rachel Zegler can sign, and yes, we know that the only thing that Lucy can do is sing, but we can’t forget we are talking about a story about war, power and violence, so maybe it wasn’t that necessary to put that much focus on music. To me, that was the biggest miss of this film. It was hard for me to empathize with the character, as she doesn’t try very hard to survive or be liked. Yes, she’s a free spirit and yes, she might be compassionate and care for her loved ones, but for moments she is too arrogant, and that goes against her fear of not surviving the games. But once again, I haven’t read the book, so maybe Zegler’s acting is on point. Overall, I think she did a good job. In fact, everyone in the film did a great job.

The movie has many antagonists, and they all work perfectly. Viola Davis stuns as the malicious Dr. Volumnia Gaul, who doesn’t care about anyone and sees everyone below her as a lab rat, whose life is worth sacrificing. She doesn’t care to make children fight to their deaths, she wants her games to be a spectacle, something for people to watch and remind themselves what is their place in this world. The games might be terrible, but the film demonstrates Gaul’s point: whenever we feel in danger we do anything to survive. Peter Dinklage is also a good villain. Hunter Schafer is great as Tigris, Snow’s cousin, although it would’ve been nice to know more about her, especially because we actually get to know Tigris in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, where she has the resemblance of a tiger. What made her change her appearance? We still don’t know. The biggest surprises from the film are Josh Andrés Rivera, as Snow’s best friend, and Jason Schwartzman as Lucky Flickerman, host of the games, who works as the “comic relief” in the story. He’s actually a terrible person, but his timing and dialogue are actually good and give the audience the only few laughs in this horrible story about humanity and barbarism.

Overall, I think The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes is a very good film, which does great justice to the saga and manages to amend some mistakes that were made in the past. I wouldn’t say we’re against the best movie of the franchise, but It’s definitely one of the best: it’s way better than Mockingjay (mainly because Francis Lawrence, the director, doesn’t make the mistake again of splitting the story in two), but it doesn’t surpass the first two films. It may be the longest instalment of the franchises, but it doesn’t feel long at all, as it’s very dynamic. It was good to be back and get to discover President Snow’s story, and I can say that I’m very very pleased.

Photo credit: Lionsgate

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