Telling a compelling prequel story that takes place 64 years before Katniss Everdeen volunteered as tribute is a huge commitment. Especially considering how beloved The Hunger Games franchise is to hardcore fans, and how successfully Jennifer Lawrence carried the original saga to the phenomenon that it is today.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a solid film whose cast, which stars Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler, provides incredible performances. However, the film unfortunately fails to carry the emphatic feel that made the original saga a success into its third act.
‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Thrillingly Enriches the Return to Panem
Francis Lawrence returns to the Hunger Games franchise as director. It’s clear he had a vision to produce a film that embodies the exciting and terrifying return to the world of Panem. The prequel beautifully tells the origin story of Coriolanus Snow and what originally led Panem to start The Hunger Games.
Lawrence also directed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which is easily the best film in the franchise. Catching Fire contains an engaging mixture of climactic action sequences of the games and fantastic character development. The first two acts of Songbirds and Snakes carry those two components, demonstrating the setting and the characters that made the Hunger Games into what they were before the arrival of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
However, the third act of the prequel is similar to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One and Part Two, which heavily focused on the coldness of the Panem rebellion. Songbirds and Snakes takes on Mockingjay vibes in the third act when showing the brutal burdens of the Hunger Games and Panem has on Snow’s future. In short, the entirety of the third act should have been another film. It is underdeveloped and takes away from the main story, which truly expresses the rich themes of the games and the appealing charm of its characters.
Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth are Great, but the Supporting Cast Steals the Show
The biggest highlight for Songbirds and Snakes is its cast. Tom Blyth does well to balance the complexities of Coriolanus Snow, which includes Snow’s strong opinions towards the Hunger Games. Blyth’s performance is so captivating that it’s scary rooting for him, since we know Snow later turns out to be the main villain in the entire Hunger Games franchise. He allows audiences to care about Snow, as the character in this film is only a troubled teenager trying to understand his purpose in Panem — becoming the President.
Rachel Zegler has made quite a name for herself in the entertainment industry. After starring in West Side Story and Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Zegler returns to another powerful role in Lucy Gray Baird. She performs with a rebellious attitude that perfectly fits the character, leading her to be the favorite in the Games. Zegler is incredible portraying a person who is mostly a performer but later learns to become a fighter — in contrast to Katniss who is a fighter but learns to become a performer. The spirit of Katniss Everdeen, although she technically exists after Lucy Gray, flourishes in Zegler’s performance, yet she manages to make it her own.
Although Blyth and Zegler are the leads, the supporting cast of Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage, and Jason Schwartzman commands the film’s attention. Davis is delightfully evil as Dr. Volumnia Gaul. She acts with a force that lets audiences know that her character is someone to immediately look out for from the moment she appears on-screen. Peter Dinklage’s Cas Highbottom is full of fury; Dinklage earnestly expresses the heavy weight placed on his character’s shoulder, as it is Highbottom who created the Hunger Games.
Though out of the three, Schwartzman looks like he had a blast making this film. His performance as Lucretius Lucky Flickerman is an absolute joy. He completely channels Stanley Tucci’s performance as Caesar Flickerman, but Schwartzman personifies his character in a highly entertaining and hilarious way.
It’s truly special that this film has such a stacked list of actors with appealing, intriguing roles, just like the original series. In the end, it’s the cast who save the film, revealing the true strength of what makes Songbirds and Snakes such a fun film to watch.
‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Will Please Hardcore Fans
The main problem with Songbirds and Snakes is its execution. The stunning visuals, the compelling performances, the iconic score from James Newton Howard, and the little references to the original Hunger Games films are all there; but the film’s narrative structure begins with such strength that the ending needs more attention to finish on the same level.
The Hunger Games franchise is arguably one of the strongest dystopian franchises in all entertainment and although this prequel still fits perfectly along with the original saga, it wishes it could be more groundbreaking. However, fans of Suzanne Collins‘ books and the previous films will still find Songbirds and Snakes entertaining to watch.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is in theaters, November 17. Follow the Agents of Fandom socials for all the latest reviews and entertainment news.
‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Review‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Review
- The cast excels in their intriguing roles.
- The score is nostalgic.
- The visuals are beautiful.
- The third act needs more attention as it's slightly underdeveloped.
- The ending is frustratedly rushed.
- The beginning is so strong, it makes the poor ending stick out.