The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023) Review
TEEN novel phenomenon The Hunger Games returns to our screens following a string of financial success and critic failures. Despite a strong start in 2012, the film adaptions saw sudden rises before slipping off the rails during its grand finale The Hungers Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. Now Lionsgate Films looks to reignite the tribute's flames with a dive into the story behind the Hunger Games; an interesting place to take the series for sure, but one that is let down by pacing and attempting to do too much with too little screen time.
Years before turning into the tyrannical President of Panem, Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) is chosen to be one of many mentors for the tributes apart of the 10th annual Hunger Games. However, his loyalty is brought into question when he is assigned to mentor and begins to fall in love with Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a girl from the poverty-stricken District 12.
There were many directions the franchise could have taken following the underwhelming ending to Mockingjay - Part 2 - and a prequel was the way to take it. Diving deeper into one of the Hunger Games' most intriguing characters in President Snow may be disappointing to some due to the lack of familiar faces seen in the main set of films, but the concept is a solid-enough one with a Romeo and Juliet-esque love story being mixed with the series' signature battel royale; just not solid enough to bring casual movie-goers to the cinema one more time.
In 2013, Lionsgate Films received criticism from the public by announcing that the final movie would be split in two movies despite the original story being condensed into a single novel. And as expected, this controversial decision to create two movies rather than one resulted in the quality being affected, with both Mockingjay Part 1 and 2 receiving negative reception from audiences and critics. Nearly a decade later, the studio learned their lesson by making The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes one movie; smart in concept, but a decision that would backfire again as despite being nearly 3 hours, this prequel suffered from a story that was too large in scope to be told in a movie that was too short in length. Splitting the film into two or creating a streaming series could have resolved this unmistakable issue, but that is not the reality we are in: the reality is that Songbirds and Snakes is boring at the best of times and downright sluggish at the worst of times.
Now this isn't to say there aren't bad aspects to Songbirds and Snakes. Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth knock it out of the park in their star-crossed lovers roles, with Zegler embracing her snarky and confident character by utilising mannerisms and facial expressions akin to Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen from the 2012 movie that would spark the flame in the film franchise. Blyth steals the show as the would-be Coriolanus Snow, expressing moments of conflict and weakness that foreshadow what would become of the would-be President of Panem. The supporting cast of Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage and Jason Schwartzman deliver serviceable performances, but feel incredibly phoned in when compared to the leading duo of Zegler and Blyth.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a decent attempt to revitalise The Hunger Games adaptations, but when most of your key demographic either don't know about the series or have aged to the point of no longer caring, financial worries are almost destined to follow, resulting in an underwhelming dive into the history behind Panem and its eventual President. Breakout performances by Zegler and Blyth carry majority of the film, but not enough to make the slow build to an underwhelming 10th Hunger Games worth it.