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The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes Review

November 20, 2023 | Posted by Rob Stewart
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Image Credit: Murray Close/Lionsgate
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The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes Review  

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has a very long title. It’s almost as long as the movie’s runtime, but… we’ll get to that in a bit.

The newest Hunger Games movie is a prequel to the last four, all starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, and takes place about 65 years before Katniss’ adventure ever starts. If you’ve seen those movies or read the books, you will remember Donald Sutherland as President Snow, the evil ruler of Panem who oversees the Hunger Games and the rule of The Capitol over the twelve oppressed Districts.

The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes is the tale of part of Snow’s history, showing what set him on the path of becoming the cold, heartless ruler we would come to know him as when he becomes Katniss’ enemy.

Growing up in the time of the war between the Capitol and the Districts, we see a Coriolanus Snow who is loyal to his family and knows what it is like to struggle, so he has dedicated himself to being a fantastic student to win a graduation prize for being top of his class and set himself up for success. But a curveball is tossed his way when it’s announced the top graduates will have to mentor Hunger Games participants and make them television superstars to help get the ratings up.

Snow is assigned a mentee of Lucy Gray Baird, a traveling entertainer from District Twelve. He decides to get close to her and build a genuine rapport with her to strengthen her for what she needs to face. And with the Games looming, the two build a genuine connection.

Thanks to Snow’s efforts, she survives the Games, but Snow is caught in his cheating and sent to her district as a foot soldier as punishment. And then… their relationship unravels.

I’d say more about the plot here, but… I have a LOT of ground to cover in the Ups and Downs.


+ As opposed to The Hunger Games, where we see a world well after the war and life is going on (though building to a revolution), here we get a Panem that is very much still in the shadow of it. The Capitol is not yet a clown show of make-up and dress and excess, as most of the people alive remember the strife their lives faced. The Hunger Games themselves are very much in a one-point-oh stage, and they look nothing like what we have come to see from Katniss’ adventures. So we get some quality world building and a more realistic view of life after a war for even the victors living in the Capitol.

+ As we’ve gotten used to from the other movies, the actual Hunger Games themselves are vicious and unrelenting, especially in what we see this time around as the original set-up: a simple battle dome that the kids are thrown into. Presumably, the Games we see in this movie are the first ones to last more than an hour or so because they are meant to be fast, bloody, and effective, but they weren’t necessarily built to be a television spectacle yet (part of that change is Snow’s story and the impact he has across the Capitol).

The movie essentially “ends” at one point while you are watching it, setting itself up for a sequel or a-whole-nother franchise of Snow-based movies to show his downfall after having been a genuine heroic protagonist here. But then it comes up with a Part Three title card and just… keeps going. And what we get is basically a tacked-on mini-sequel third act (when the first two acts of the movie had their own self-contained three act set-up) which resolves the story between Snow and Lucy Gray.

You obviously need this third act for Snow’s arc–no one can deny that–but this is an instance where it would have been vastly better to make it a full sequel rather than a thirty minute addendum to a movie that was already two hours long. It drags out the runtime of Ballad, turning it into something of a chore to finish, and frankly, it blows right through what should be the most important part of the movie: the reunion and dissolution of Snow and Lucy Gray.

The characterization falls off the edge of world here, and the actual scene where Snow and Lucy Gray fall out is so damned rushed. It makes no sense! My wife and I spent the entire drive home trying to work out the Why’s of that moment. It feels like it throws away everything we saw for the first 135 minutes over what could easily be reasoned away as a misunderstanding.

I’m led to believe the book did a much better job drawing out why the lovebirds came out the way they did, but this weird epilogue act here just didn’t do it justice. This should have been its own movie. The Hunger Games: Snow in District 12 and His Slow and Complete Heel Turn.

I’m not here to knock Rachel Zegler, who I think does a fine job with what she is given, but the script does her character no favors. Just a few days after watching Patrick Dempsey in Thanksgiving, the last thing I needed was another poor actor being forced to affect an awful accent, but that’s what we get for Zegler here. I’m not good enough to describe or place accents, but she’s being burdened with this quasi-Southern affectation that is just so damn distracting every time she speaks.

Zegler, who has a very good singing voice, is also tasked with singing repeatedly throughout the movie, and that, too, comes to the point of distraction. It starts to feel cartoonish after all, like she is a Disney Princess musically dictating her life story. And it is no more cartoonish than when Lucy Gray bursts out into song while being covered in highly venomous snakes. It’s supposed to be the climax of the Hunger Games themselves and a truly tense moment, but it is just so goofy. It didn’t work for me.

So while I’m not giving Zegler herself the down here, I am giving it to the script and the director who seemingly felt compelled to handicap her efforts at every turn.

The final score: review Poor
The 411
Boy, that third act really killed this film for me, as it really either should have been an entire sequel on its own, or it should have been much longer, and they could have cut thirty minutes from the first two acts. For two hours, this Ballad moves along just fine, but it doesn't end where it should and the last half hour is badly out of tune because of that choice.