November 16, 2023

CINEMA | Before 'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes'

"Hunger is a weapon."
Rachel Zegler Francis Lawrence | The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
Lionsgate / Cineplex Pictures
The Hunger Games sequel director Francis Lawrence successfully revisits the dystopian young adult action franchise he took over and cemented in the prequel film, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, also based on the book by series author Suzanne Collins and set sixty-four years before the first entry.

Starring Tom Blyth as the eighteen-year-old future Panem President Coriolanus Snow (originated by Donald Sutherland) and Rachel Zegler as District 12 tribute Lucy Gray, their meeting and chemistry cover the crux of the film's sprawling war story of class struggle, oppression, authoritarianism, and dominance. Snow's character is softened while teasing his future maniacal tendencies. Blyth is clearly a star with a grounded, sympathetic performance despite his villainous inevitability, while Zegler continues to shine thanks to her always dynamic screen presence.

There's a killer cast surrounding the central pair as Josh Andrés Rivera, Hunter Schafer, Jason Schwartzman, Peter Dinklage, and Viola Davis play often larger-than-life supporting characters with varying levels of culpability for Panem's constant conflict against the Districts' uprisings. We also see a stripped-down, low-rent version of the titular tenth edition of the deadly Hunger Games competition, where its satirical element of reality television starts to the entire culture.

Scripted by Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt, the lengthy film has a television season's worth of dramatic YA storylines and sometimes struggles to fit everything in while balancing the expected beats of a blockbuster film. How origins are revealed for things we have already seen thankfully come off as fresher rather than stale.

In many ways, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes feels like a more appropriate coda to the The Hunger Games franchise after the disapointing and awkwardly split two-part Mockingjay films. Still, having what might be considered the action setpiece and climax occur earlier than expected in the film's second act, with a long sequence of events teasing how the eventual world we are all familiar with comes to be, does not entirely work. Nonetheless, Lawrence has constructed another thrilling entry that builds on the previous films well.

More | YVArcade / Indiewire / Polygon

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