The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a refreshing return to the world of Panem in its infancy and a reminder of how incredible moments in this series can be. A bit over a decade since Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen won audiences over and ushered in one of the best Young Adult film series adaptations ever, we find ourselves back inside the arena taking a closer look at the creation of the games and discovering more about how the power of the Capitol can be corrupting to even the best of people.
Leading up to the 10th Annual Hunger Games, Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) is set to rise to the top of his classes in the Capitol and might potentially be selected eventual President to lead the Capitol and 12 Districts. When the game’s maker Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage) and Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) change the nature of the selection, Coriolanus finds himself and each of the other 21 candidates in charge of mentoring one of the tributes from the different districts. Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) is the tribute from District 12 assigned to Snow and once the two meet it’s clear that they’ll do whatever it takes to keep Lucy alive.
Blending a love story with a villain origin story is a bold move that mostly pays off in this enjoyable look at the hunger games before they evolved. In a primitive gladiator style setup, the games have been falling out of public favor until Coriolanus puts the focus on the tributes. Tom Blyth does a terrific job showcasing the gentler side of the eventual President Snow who clearly had a love that stuck with him all his life. He also excels in demonstrating how difficult it can be to stay true to your morals in a world that’s designed to care less about most people who are seen as lesser than him. Watching his subtle transformations is as fascinating as it is saddening, especially when you see how well he works alongside Zegler.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes offers up tons of intriguing new information about an already interesting world, filling in the details with graphic examples of control and a lack of empathy. Rachel Zegler’s Lucy is a curious one, spending a large amount of time singing songs (which are in the book) to the hunger games viewers and to her people in District 12. I’m not sure the Dolly Parton southern accent was the best call for her character’s age and demeanor, but Zegler hits the emotional beats perfectly and plays Lucy with a ton of care. There were moments when I’d hoped the violence would be a bit more visceral to really drive home how messed up these games are as a spectacle, but I was satisfied with the drama and politics we got instead!
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