The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Movie Review

3/5 stars – MARKMEETS

Having been invited to the premiere in London last night where the MarkMeets team met Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Hunter Schafer & Josh Andrés Rivera we sat down to watch the movie and posed the question “Is there still an appetite for the Hunger Games?” This intriguing question serves as the backdrop for Francis Lawrence’s “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” a prequel set 64 years before Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy’s first novel. Released nearly eight years after Lionsgate’s last movie adaptation, the film delves into Panem’s war-ravaged past, exploring the roots of President Coriolanus Snow’s ascent to autocratic tyranny.

The Changing Landscape of Dystopian Narratives

The Hunger Games franchise initially captured audiences with its narrative of children from outer districts fighting to the death, reflecting the aftermath of a failed rebellion against the Capitol’s elite. However, the landscape has evolved, and Hollywood’s fascination with young adult books depicting rebellion has given way to a more complex and frightening reality. The film industry’s attempt to grapple with issues like state-sanctioned violence and socioeconomic inequality has faced challenges, particularly in the wake of real-world events like school shootings and political unrest.

Unpacking Sociopathy: President Snow’s Origin Story

“The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” takes a unique approach by presenting a Revenge of the Sith-like origin story for President Snow, unraveling his journey from a scrappy orphan to a totalitarian leader. The film refuses the simplistic good-versus-evil binary, opting instead to explore the moral complexities that lead individuals to believe in the imperative of their own power. While the hyper-faithful script adheres closely to Collins’ source material, the attempt to trace President Snow’s sociopathy back to its roots adds depth to the franchise.

A Fresh Perspective: Intimacy and Grounded Realism

Diverging from the grandeur of its predecessors, “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” offers a more intimate and grounded portrayal. Despite its length, the film stands on its own, introducing audiences to a ghost city awakening from recent war trauma. The Hunger Games, initially a punishment, gain new significance as the film progresses. The narrative follows Coriolanus Snow’s struggle, not only for academic success and survival but also to preserve his family’s legacy in a society grappling with post-war challenges.

Characters and Performances

The film’s strength lies in its stellar performances, with actors like Blyth and Zegler breathing life into their characters. Blyth’s portrayal of the future President Snow as a quicksilver opportunist, simultaneously asexual and predatory, adds layers to the narrative. Zegler’s performance as Lucy Gray Baird, the female tribute from District 12, brings a captivating mix of Southern pluck and wide-eyed terror. The supporting cast, including Viola Davis and Jason Schwartzman, contributes to the film’s overall balance.

Deeper Exploration: Propaganda and Spectacle

While “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” doesn’t emphasize the propaganda angle as strongly as its predecessors, it delves deeper into the theme through characters like Lucky Flickerman. Schwartzman’s portrayal of a weatherman and close-up magician hosting a television broadcast with cameras shaped like guns adds a satirical layer. The film challenges the notion that violence is solely a byproduct of subjugation, suggesting that evil can masquerade as a natural state of affairs.

The Games: Grittier Realism and Unconvincing Resolution

The spectacle of the Hunger Games itself, though initially underwhelming, takes a grittier and more realistic turn with brutalist design and a desaturated color scheme. However, the tragic fates of the tributes are somewhat sanitized for a PG-13 rating, losing some of the queasiness and bloodsport elements. The film struggles to provide a convincing resolution for the Games, ending on an absurd note that echoes certain young adult tropes.

The Film’s Structure and Final Act

Spanning 157 minutes, the film is divided into three distinct parts, defying the logic of splitting it into separate films. The last act marks a tonal and geographical pivot, transitioning from pubescent mass-murder to a more contemplative phase of the story. This shift risks appearing anticlimactic but ultimately allows the film’s most significant ideas to unfold, giving ample space for the standout performances of Blyth and Zegler.

Coriolanus Snow’s Ambiguous Descent

The film faces challenges in tracking Coriolanus Snow’s inevitable descent into madness, introducing ambiguity that the YA genre often struggles to accommodate. Blyth’s unmoored performance adds an element of scariness, leaving room for multiple interpretations of Snow’s transformation. The final revelation that “Snow always lands on top” encapsulates his ultimate disregard for what lies beneath, solidifying his role as the ultimate prize in the dystopian narrative.

Conclusion: A Rich and Unsettling Origin Story

In conclusion, “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” breathes new life into the Hunger Games franchise by offering a rich and unsettling origin story. The film’s exploration of moral complexity, intimate portrayal of characters, and the nuanced performances of its cast elevate it as the best installment in a franchise that seemed to have reached its conclusion. As it hits theaters on November 17, the film promises a thought-provoking journey into the dystopian roots of Panem’s oppressive regime.

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