Opening today is The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes a prequel to the series of films that started in 2012. The acting here is very good, the cinematography mixed with CGI excellent. As for if the film works as a prelude however, it’s a bit understated. But, if you are a fan of the Hunger Games, your knowledge of the three “sequels” will give you an edge over those who missed one of the best action series.
The film opens with Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), a young government mentor, getting assigned for this year’s Hunger Games. The times are hard for Snow as his family has not been able to keep their high status within Panem, a country of 13 Districts. It’s the 10th year of the Hunger Games and the current administration finds funding and admiration for the games on the down slide. Not really wanting the assignment of a tribute, Snow gets assigned to activist Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) who’s a thorn in the side of the government.
Snow appeals to the unreasonable Director of the games Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) with objections to mentoring Lucy. But Gaul, along with the games creator Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), see a chance to up the ratings on the games with the team of Snow and Lucy Gray. Thus begins a tales of relationships, defiance, revolt and a chance to grab power.
The film does have a lot of action and drama that Director Francis Lawrence stuffs into this prologue to one of the best teen to twenties action franchises. However, that being said, the story wanders and fidgets as it moves along at a slow pace. At least 30 minutes less would have been better. Also if you haven’t seen at least the first episode of The Hunger Games, it’s a good idea you do as it will help in understanding who begets whom and what the future turned out to be.
Viola Davis does an outstanding job as the Games “Queen” Dr. Volumnia Gaul in costume and makeup that helps to make her a wicked oppressor and director of the violent event. It’s one of her best outings and that’s saying a lot considering her amazing career that included The Woman King, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and an academy award for the film Fences.
The duo of Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler heat up the screen both action wise and romantic as well. Zegler’s star is rising having roles in Shazam! Fury of the Gods and West Side Story prior to this one. As for Tom Blyth, he’s perfect for the character of Snow and he nails the adamant mentor role. This is his first major film for the big screen and hopefully many more to come.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for strong violent content and disturbing material. The violence does get a bit horrific and some scenes are hard to watch at times, but should not upset those that are mature. The film runs two and a half hours, but ardent fans will think it flew by.
Additional Film Information
Cast: Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Jason Schwartzman, and Viola Davis
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Genre: Action Adventure Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for strong violent content and disturbing material
Running Time: 2 hrs. 37 min.
Opening Date: November 17, 2023
Distributed by: Lions Gate Films
Released in: Theaters