Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen to the Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favour. Not only have the high grossing film franchise returned, but it is back with new blood, and a storyline that will leave lovers of the Hunger Games universe with both glee and frustration. Suzanne Collins returns as a producer, together with director Francis Lawrence. Is this the best film in the franchise?
The prequel of the beloved series is set 64 years before the Hunger Games, and we follow Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) as he is set to be a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games. The film starts in the dark years, the time where the districts rebelled, and the Capitol’s children were starving in the streets. The Snow family lost their fortune but refuse to give up their status in Panem. After bombing District 13, the Capitol ends the war, creating the Hunger Games to punish the districts for their rebellion. However, only ten years into the future, nobody is watching the games, and the mentors are introduced to attract viewers. 24 promising academy students are chosen for the task, with a scholarship award on the line for the best mentor. Coriolanus Snow, desperate to win the award, to secure his future, is given the worst of the pack. The girl from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler). The odds are not in their favour, and Coriolanus must find a way for his songbird to survive. But at what cost?
So, what did the film do right?
A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes remain true to the book, with a few minor changes. The film paints the story of Snow’s rise from hungry schoolboy to dangerous unrepentant president. Fans of the books will smile to themselves when they catch references to the trilogy, and the screenwriters should receive a pat on the back for successfully translating the book to the screen. Another thing the film does right is the soundtrack. Lucy Gray’s songs were a huge part of the book, and James Newton Howard (the dark knight) was hired to bring the songs to life. Having so many songs could easily have made the film feel like a musical, but it never crosses that line. Rachel Zegler’s voice is powerful, yet comforting, and her delivery of Lucy Gray’s determination is compelling. Her act of the song The old Therebefore is nothing short of breathtaking, and it leaves the viewer stunned.
Further, I would also like to highlight some of the acting performances in the film. As mentioned, Rachel Zegler does an excellent job at portraying Lucy Gray’s charming wit, but the best acting performance goes to Josh Andrés Rivera, who played Sejanus Plinth. The desperation, plotting and empathy shown by the character, is as it was taken straight from the book. All together the plot, the casting, the costumes, and the music make up for a great film, but I have a few nagging points.
First, the character of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth). While Blyth is a great actor, as a book reader, it was easy to catch on to the fact that his portrayal of the character lacks complexity. Blyth is excellent at portraying the decisiveness and the allure of Coriolanus, but he fails at conveying the doubt and insecurity Snow feels through the plot. Certain scenes leave me longing for more depth, and it feels like his backstory was left behind.
Second, the pacing of the film is off. As one could expect the highlight of the film is the actual Hunger Games, which takes place during the second part of the film, The Prize. My attention was kept during the first two parts of the film, but during the third, The Peacekeeper, some scenes felt unnecessary dragged out. Of course, the ending picks up the pace again, and I can’t say the third part lacks interesting events. Yet, I feel the film could have been shortened a bit down, to match the other films in the franchise.
So, is it the best film in the franchise? No, I would not say so. It’s a great addition to an already amazing series, and I would recommend going to the cinema and watch it. It shows us a tale of hope, desperation, and love. Most of all, it teaches us one thing about Coriolanus Snow and society.
“We all do things we’re not proud of to live”.
Film score: 8/10