THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES
Starring: Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivers, Jason Schwartzman, and Viola Davis
Director: Francis Lawrence
The Hunger Games has always highlighted humans’ will to survive, and The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is an excellent franchise addition that exemplifies this ideal. Director Francis Lawrence unwaveringly showcases humanity’s bravery and brutality, fostering riveting performances from the entire cast, especially Viola Davis and Rachel Zegler. Breakneck pacing creates a thrilling, action-packed first two acts, but it slightly stifles act three’s emotional payoff due to, even at two-and-a-half hours, packing so much detail into a short amount of time. Yet and still, the exhilarating tension and outstanding cast make this a franchise best. I can’t wait to read the book.
While The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes succeeds in the world-building of Panem, it stumbles with an uneven and bloated telling of the franchise villain's origin story. That said, the first two acts give us fascinating insight into the evolution of the games and Coriolanus Snow’s (Tom Blyth) journey to this point while throwing us back into the world of The Hunger Games we are fond of. All of this allows the outstanding cast to shine throughout. However, the film’s downfall is a rushed third act that leaves the story’s conclusion feeling somewhat unearned.
The Hunger Games has always been just another franchise to me. Not bad, but nothing special either. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, while admittedly an improvement over the two Mockingjay movies, hasn’t changed my mind. Despite being excellent when it’s in the arena (Act Two), the overall story is too much for one movie, even at more than 2.5 hours. The third act feels incredibly rushed, overstuffed, and tacked on, resulting in a deflating 45-minute stretch that comes after the film’s emotional climax in the tense second act. That aside, the world-building and performances are nice, especially from Viola Davis and Jason Schwartzman.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a tale of three acts. Its first act is a bit expository, but its production value and world-building interestingly expand on the original films. The second act is kind of amazing. It’s invigorating and intense, featuring some of the franchise's best moments while highlighting the phenomenal cast, namely Viola Davis and Rachel Zegler. Sadly, the final act is when it dips, dragging out a runtime that can quickly lose the audience’s interest. While it definitely lost me, it’s still an improvement over the past two installments.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is ambitious to a fault, covering far too much ground for one film. The performances are great, but the character arcs are rushed, and the relationship between the leads doesn’t have enough time to breathe. Rachel Zegler also has a few too many musical numbers, most of which are kind of awkward. However, it is still pretty fun going back to Panem. The world-building and production design are the film's strongest elements, and franchise fans will certainly admire the attention to detail. Despite its uneven narrative, Songbirds & Snakes still makes for a worthy addition to this beloved series.
Set across three acts spanning over two and a half hours, I was very underwhelmed by The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. It skims through one event after another, leaving many interesting aspects of this earlier version of Panem underdeveloped, but ensuring plenty of time for Rachel Zegler’s musical numbers. This left the central romance between Lucy Gray (Zegler) and Snow (Tom Blyth) under-explored and unconvincing, and made the film seem a little shy to really examine Snow as a villain. However, the production design is impressive and there are some fantastic performances, particularly from Jason Schwartzman and Viola Davis.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes may be worthy of a trip to the theaters if you are a HUGE fan of The Hunger Games, but it fits better as a future late-night streaming option for most. While I have enjoyed the books and the movies, this prequel is just completely overstuffed. By the time the third act hits, much of the theater thought that emptying their bladder was time better spent before soldiering on. The production value and performances are highlights, but with a sickly-paced and unoriginal plot, there is little to inspire real commitment to this tragic love story.