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'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes' Review: A Solid Return to Panem

Courtesy of LionsGate

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is the fifth movie in The Hunger Games series to come out, based on the 2020 prequel novel The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. Once again, Francis Lawrence returns to direct, and instead of focusing on Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, and the other Hunger Games protagonists, this movie takes place during the tenth annual Hunger Games. Before he becomes the ruthless president, Coriolanus Snow was an academy student looking to bring greatness back to his family and is given the opportunity when he is tasked with mentoring District 12 Tribute Lucy Gray and helping make the Hunger Games more entertaining. The movie stars Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Josh Andreas Rivera, Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzmann, and Hunter Schafer.

It’s been eight years since we got a movie from The Hunger Games series. While a prequel was rumored, it wasn’t until The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes book came out in 2020 that it was a matter of time until a movie based on the book was made. Prequels, most of the time, aren’t as good as the original books or movies. The Hobbit movies and Fantastic Beasts movies ran into this problem where the movies were just good or mixed bags. Even the Star Wars prequels had their problems. How would The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes land up?

The best part of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is the performances. Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray is terrific and is different from Katniss Everdeen. Lucy's not a hunter like Katniss but more cunning and willing to do drastic things. Zegler’s singing in this movie was also terrific. Tom Blyth as a young Coriolanus Snow is great, showing how conflicted he is throughout the movie, from trying to bring greatness back to the Snow family to growing to care for Lucy Gray, as well as how charming he was at a young age and how he eventually becomes the ruthless villain we see later in the series. His character development feels a bit rushed in the third part of the movie, though.

The surprise performance of the movie was Josh Andrea Rivera as Snow’s friend Sejanus Plinth. Unlike most of his classmates, he is completely against the Hunger Games and sees the Tributes as humans. Viola Davis as Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul was one of the top three performances in the movie, showing how ruthless and crazy this character is, especially compared to future Gamemakers in the series. Peter Dinklage portrays Casca Highbottom, the Dean of the Academy Snow goes to and author of the Hunger Games event, is great in showing how the character feels about Snow and the Hunger Games.

Similar to the previous movies, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes does not hesitate to show how brutal the dystopian world is. The Hunger Games themselves are still violent and the actions the Capital takes against any rebellions are still intense. The main settings in this movie are the Capital of Panem and District 12. Both settings look great and show how wealthy the Capital is and how poor District 12 is. The costume and makeup work are great as always, the best being Dr. Volumnia Gaul’s design.

Like other prequels, this movie sets up the original movies and has a ton of Easter eggs that fans of The Hunger Games will recognize and get excited about. Unlike most prequels though, the set-up is important to the story. For example, the Capital wants to make the Hunger Games more interesting, and Snow suggests ideas to make them more interesting. We saw these ideas in the main movies, but never knew how they came to be. These suggestions show how much he is willing to get power and recognition. It also shows how different the Hunger Games used to be when they first started, and they were even worse back then.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is far from being the best Hunger Games movie. The movie is the longest in The Hunger Games series and has three parts to it. Not everyone will like the longer runtime. The first two parts are well-paced and have great storytelling. Part three is where things aren’t bad but get messy. Some events feel rushed, as well as Snow’s character development. This was an issue in the novel as well, but the filmmakers didn’t do much to fix this for the movie. I think the author of the book Suzanne Collins could have done this better by making that part a different novel, and that could have resulted in that part being a different movie to take more time in telling that part of Snow's life.

Overall, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a solid prequel that manages to both tell a good story and set up the future of The Hunger Games series. While Tom Blyth was great as Snow, the best performances were from Rachel Zegler, Josh Andres Rivera, and Viola Davis. My final grade for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a B+. The movie has great performances, and solid action, and Panem looks great. The third part hurts the movie, but not a lot. It’s better than the last two Hunger Games movies, which were based on Mockingjay, but not as good as The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. If you are a fan of The Hunger Games books and movies, I highly recommend you check out this movie.

What are your thoughts on The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes? Let us know in the comments below.

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