The Beginning of an End: A High Five Review of “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes”

*Warning: This article contains spoilers for “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes”

by Hendrich Namoca
Hunger Games
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It has been exactly a decade since the release of Catching Fire, the final installment of the Hunger Games film series. Just in time for the 10th anniversary of the film, Lionsgate released the long-awaited prequel to the series, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, based on the 2020 novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins.

Long-time fans of the series could not contain their excitement with this jaw-dropping, eye-opening prequel that expands on the history of Panem, answering fans’ questions about President Coriolanus Snow and the first iteration of the Hunger Games.

In this High Five review, SEA Wave takes a look at The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes – did it give us our fill or did it leave us wanting more?

 

A Deeper Look into Early Panem

Hunger Games District 12

Photo from Lionsgate Movies

Fans of the Hunger Games series have wondered at some point or another what the earliest Hunger Games looked like. Previous films provided glimpses of the early games through the backstories of former winners, but The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes firmly paints a picture of an early Panem, set in a dystopian future just before the Hunger Games became an unbreakable institution.

The movie begins with then-18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), who aims to restore the nobility and prosperity of the Snow family after the death of his father during the First Rebellion in Panem. A student of the prestigious Capitol Academy, Coriolanus is chosen to become a mentor for the upcoming 10th Hunger Games. This is the first time a mentoring system is introduced to the games, with each of the mentors being assigned to a tribute reaped from each district. Coriolanus becomes a mentor for the female tribute of District 12, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), who belongs to a singing group of entertainers who would eventually be fenced into District 12 after the First Rebellion.

This Panem is visibly different, with a 1950s aesthetic to make it distinct from the Panem in the original Hunger Games films. This might have been a decision by filmmakers to differentiate the far-decade gap between the events of Katniss’ time and the prequel. Either way, it’s an interesting stylistic decision that adds layers to the story and draws parallels between the real-life early civil rights movement in the 1950s and the fictional world of Panem.

 

The Villains

Hunger Games Dr. Volumnia

Photo from Lionsgate Movies

Though we know that Coriolanus Snow would eventually become the cruel dictator we saw during the 75th Hunger Games, it’s fascinating to know the conditions that led him to become the monster that he was. We see this layered characterization of Coriolanus and the events that led to his moral descent, backed by an amazing performance by Tom Blyth.

The exceptional cast members also brought the gallery of antagonists to life, with Viola Davis as Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul and Peter Dinklage as the mastermind behind the games, Casca Highbottom. They are easily the most interesting characters in the entire film, heightened by the amazing performances by veteran actors.

Other than the villains, Rachel Zegler’s strong performance as Lucy Gray Baird ties the whole film together, however, her chemistry with Blyth deserved a bit more panache, as the film could have done more to portray the complicated relationship between the characters that they portrayed.

 

The Core of Survival

10th Hunger Games

Photo from Lionsgate Movies

A commonality between the prequel and the original film series is the theme of survival. We’ve seen from Katniss and Peeta’s experience in the games what it’s like when every decision you make is motivated by making it through another day. In this prequel, we see exactly that. Lucy Gray Baird might be singing her heart out, but deep down we know that she’s doing so out of necessity – to win sponsors as directed by her mentor.

Interestingly, the concept of a “career” tribute – someone who devotes their whole life preparing for the Hunger Games – is not yet present in this prequel film, as the games were still a new concept at this time. It adds a certain depth to the whole “career” tribute system of the Districts 1, 2, and 4; the system did not just appear out of blind motivation for glory or valor, but probably to help these wealthy districts rationalize the need for them to participate in the games and to help equip their tributes with the necessary skills to survive.

 

More Questions Than Answers

Hunger Games Arena

Photo from Lionsgate Movies

Just like the novel, the film raised more unanswered questions than ever before. While fans have seen the events of the 74th Hunger Games all the way to the abolition of the games, there are still a lot of gaps to fill between the prequel and the Second Rebellion. While this may be the case, this leaves more room for speculation and potential spin-offs and sequels. After all, half the fun of being a fan is in forming theories and engaging with the fandom.

 

The Verdict

Hunger Games Ballad of the Songbirds and Snakes

Photo from Lionsgate Movies

The film was a solid adaptation which could have been improved by including a few plotlines from the novel that would have benefited the narrative. It’s a constant challenge for movie adaptations to balance the source material with original material, considering that you want to keep all the best parts of the original story while ensuring that it is presented in the best possible way for the big screen. The performances of the actors were superb, though the chemistry was lacking between the two main characters. Overall, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is an enjoyable film that we recommend to fans of the original films or novels, and even new viewers who just want an exciting watch.

 

SEA Wave rates this film a 3 out of 5.

 

Have you seen the film? What did you think about The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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