The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Movie Review

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes movie poster

I watched The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes at a really nice theater. A Dolby Cinema. Nice visuals. Great sound. Semi-reclining scenes with large armrests and cushy cushions. About an hour into this Hunger Games prequel, I thought: this is really nice. I’m really comfortable. Should I take a nap? I’m pretty convinced I won’t miss anything.

I didn’t take a nap. I closed my eyes, for maybe a minute. I wish I had napped.

This new Hunger Games is a tediously long drag of a film that pretends it’s something new while essentially recycling the same ideas, only with less-thrilling action and much-less-charming protagonists. 

The Hunger Games franchise peaked with Catching Fire, the first being pedestrian and the last two quite painful (the third book was pretty rough, don’t convince yourself otherwise). I’ve always enjoyed the franchise’s central plot elements, but felt the underlying themes of politics, media, and class were forced and not particularly intelligent or even logical.

The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes leans even further into these themes and for some baffling reason author Suzanne Collins felt it was worthwhile to explore the early days of the Games through the eyes of her franchise’s villain Coriolanus Snow (played by Donald Sutherland in the original films, and by Tom Blyth here). A young and perhaps conflicted Snow is a potentially fascinating character, but for a much more sophisticated film than The Hunger Games can offer. 

For what it’s worth, there are some interesting elements at play. The movie, directed by Francis Lawrence (who made the last three Hunger Games movies, including Catching Fire), is professionally made with a nice aesthetic. It briefly shows the Dark Times (i.e. civil war). Portraying the early Games, which are much more rudimentary and operate at a smaller scale, is inspired, and Viola Davis sizzles as the Games’ maniacal overseer. Casting Peter Dinklage was a smart move. The story, interestingly, goes in unpredictable places in the third act.

But overall, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes feels like a massive step back for the franchise. Those feasting for more Hunger Games action will discover the fight-to-the-death battle here feels like a practice round compared to what we saw in the earlier movies, though to his credit Lawrence directs the sequence well. While it has a lot of well made pieces, the movie itself is a bit of a bore–overly long and drawn out.

Blyth is actually quite good as Snow, and delivers a really strong performance in the movie’s third act. But it’s hard to sympathize with his character when you know what he will become. In fact, there is no real character to rally around the way you could with Jennifer Lawrence’s in the previous movies. Rachel Zegler, as the annoyingly named Lucy Gray, does a good job with the material at hand, but she’s stuck playing a half-character, someone who exists to advance the plot and provide something pretty to look at. Lucy Gray is a strange person with no real back story or personality, yet she is meant to represent the embodiment of Snow’s internal struggle.

The third act, which has nothing to do with the Hunger Games themselves, is the most compelling section of the movie. But it comes too little, too late. It feels like a tacked-on bonus story to the middling two hours that preceded it–the two hours that most audiences likely paid to see.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, dabbles with clever ideas and may appeal to die hard fans of the franchise, but this is a blockbuster movie that lacks the spark, energy, and purpose of its predecessors. 

I should have taken that fucking nap.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

Originally Published Here.

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