15 February 2024

The new Hunger Games prequel is an enjoyable yet flawed tale of betrayal

| Jarryd Rowley
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Taking place during the 10th annual Hunger Games, this prequel is set 64 years before the original Jennifer Lawrence-led films. Photo: Lionsgate.

It has been 11 years since the first Hunger Games film made its name in pop culture.

The premise of 24 children from 12 districts fighting to the death for the entertainment of the elite Capitol was something brutal and sinister, yet oddly fascinating for young adults around the word.

It has now been eight years since the finale of The Hunger Games was released and in that time, Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games author, has written a new book and with it a new movie, a prequel titled A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

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The new prequel follows a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Bylth), the man who would eventually grow into the wicked president of the Capitol and the primary antagonist of the original series.

Snow grew up in poverty despite living in the vastly ‘superior’ and wealthy Capitol compared to the slums of the district. Snow realises he can grow in status and wealth by training Lucy Grey (Rachel Zegler), a tribute of the Hunger Games from District 12 assigned to him as part of his final school examination, to win the Hunger Games, allowing him to enter Capitol University.

As the games draw nearer and their partnership tightens, Coriolanus and Lucy begin to realise if both want to survive the corruption and horrors of the Capitol they will need to work together.

The performances of the two lead actors are the best in the series. Blyth’s performance as a manipulated man who eventually snaps competes with that of legendary Donald Sutherland, the man who played Snow in the original films. Meanwhile, Rachel Zegler turns in her best role since Spielberg’s West Side Story in 2021 as a tribute who uses music to captivate the attention of the people watching the games.

The two actors carry the emotional reigns of this hard-hitting story. Unfortunately, the source material has too much story to adapt into one film. All the story beats and details have been carried over from the book, but there is not enough time on screen to flesh out each character, their motivations, and why you should care about their cause in the allotted three-hour runtime.

That’s not to say this film is bad; I rather enjoyed two-thirds of the film, particularly the first two acts, the lead-up to the Hunger Games, and the games themselves.

It is the fallout from the games and the spiral that Snow’s character takes in the third act that feels rushed. Everyone knows where Snow ends up by the start of the original film, but by the start of the final act, he is nowhere near the position he needs to be.

This causes the most important character arc of the film to be squashed into 40 minutes and, as a result, it derails all momentum of the previous two acts. The performances remain great, but there is no time to breathe and take in what you are watching.

Unlike Mocking Jay Part 1 and 2 (the final movies of the original quadrilogy), this film could have benefited from a two-part structure. Blyth’s performance as Snow is brilliant and his story is interesting enough that people would have tuned into an entire second film dedicated to his downfall.

Unlike the first four films, A Ballad of Songbird and Snakes has a smaller budget. Understandably, it was a risk to return to this world during the real-life writers’ strikes eight years after the previous film. However, the risk from Lionsgate Studios seems to have paid off as the smaller budget benefits this film in almost every way.

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Production is the biggest beneficiary of the tighter cost cap. Unlike the final two films, in particular, there is little to no CGI (apart from a notable death scene in the games), meaning the filming was shot on location. This makes this depressing world feel authentic and lived in.

The real location makes the battlefield feel like a warzone, not a fake, over-the-top mess seen in more recent blockbusters. The actors act opposite real people in real locations, ultimately making a film about a dystopian future seem like a potential reality.

Overall, the film isn’t perfect and it could have benefited more from being a miniseries or two-part film, but the highlights of the film overshadow its shortcomings.

The action of the games and the performances of the two leads make the film a worthwhile watch for fans of the franchise even if I would have liked to have seen more development.

Book your tickets to A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes at Forum 6 Cinema here.

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