The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Directed By Francis Lawrence

Starring – Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Viola Davis

The Plot – The story of Coriolanus Snow (Blyth), years before he would become the tyrannical President of Panem. He is handsome and charming, and though the Snow family has fallen on hard times, Coriolanus sees a chance for a change in his fortunes when he is chosen to be a mentor for the 10th Hunger Games only to have his elation dashed when he is assigned to mentor a girl tribute named Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler) from the impoverished District 12.

Rated PG-13 for strong violent content and disturbing material

(1) The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023) Official Trailer – YouTube


Returning to Panem a decade after Katniss Everdeen conquered it, brings us a giftwrapped opportunity to experience life behind its lavish walls, with a corresponding character study that chooses to focus on the antagonist of the previous films, instead of one of its many hard-edged veterans of the sport. Doing this not only vividly articulates how Snow came to be the coldly unforgiving mastermind that serves as the cause for so much of the district’s internal sufferings, with his own high stakes sacrifices stacking as logs for the proverbial fire, but also an engagement that sees the imperfections of the games themselves, long before they became the televised spectacle that everyone in Panem tuned in to see. Lawrence returns with his most impactful direction yet, with a fine usage of IMAX cameras that stretch depiction as far as the eye can see, crafting an immersive element to intense action sequences that never sacrifice depiction for exhilaration, despite the air of their ambiance persisting with claustrophobic capture that we can practically feel the winds of their actions as they fly by. Beyond this, I love the attention to detail in both the simplicity of the broadcast presentation, with its collection of analog TV’s and single camera angle to convey the games in their infancy, which all but illustrate a lagging interest to their current appeal. Panem itself is obviously luxurious without feeling overindulging, and even though their citizens serve as the richest of the corresponding communities, there’s still an underlining hierarchy and class system within the upper one percent that constantly conveys the need for its citizens to be superior. Cap this off with the Games’ contestants quite literally being treated as animals while living inside of a zoo cage, instead of the lavish accommodations that Katniss and her crew were given before their final send off, and you have an experience that intoxicates us effortlessly with the air of ominious dread and foreboding emphasis that each one of its kids are forced to face head-on. The performances are hit and miss, but the credible side of that equation comes from Blyth, Peter Dinklage and especially Jason Schwartzman, who as an elder ancestor to Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman during the original series, makes the most of the occasion with sarcastically dry and offensive remarks that only further articulates the ignorance of the story’s upper class. As for Blyth and Dinklage, they each command a series of heavyweight emotional impact for the occasion, with the latter offering a mournfully somber menace in a film that is constantly working against his efforts, and the former tapping into the nuance of a conflicted and imperfect protagonist, with layered complexity that speaks volumes to the internal battle to solidify legacy that is made all the more complicated with the influences of the environment that he has lived in all his life. Because of such, the film and Snow’s outline play vividly into the confines of nature over nurture, with an unseen airborne toxicity constantly serving as the motivations to the character’s often imbalanced motivations.


As for diminishing efforts, the film constantly feels like it is in a rush to include so much from the book, despite a nearly two-and-a-half hour run time that should be enough to thoroughly tap into every aspect of the fandom. This is felt throughout the duration of the experience, with flat characterization during the opening act leading to an uninteresting games, where characters whom we barely know never give us a reason to invest in the urgency of their bleak and dire situations. Even worse, the third act rushes through developments so forcefully that they often completely obliterate character momentum or intention in ways that often confused my interpretation, and in the case of Snow made him go from this redeeming protagonist with momentary lapses of immaturity, into a full-blown devil, within a matter of a couple of tonally disjointed scenes. In addition to this, there are so many instances where the dialogue lacked any semblance of humanity or believability, with lines of hip lingo and metaphorical punchlines that are only missing Pete Townsend’s yell towards being featured in a “CSI: Miami” compilation. Considering the film is set ten years after the kind of society that we ourselves are familiar with, it’s appalling that characters speak in tongues with lines like “Finally Snow is falling” or “There’s a natural goodness in us all”, which all but spell out the intention of what each scene is trying to tell us, and while the original films occasionally had this problem during tense and crucial scenes, the consistency of them here overwhelmed to the point that it became difficult to remain faithfully invested to vital interaction, making this feel every bit the worst kind of Young Adult fiction that defines most of the genre’s installments. Finally, the weaker side of performances stem from Zegler, but also surprisingly Viola Davis, who hands in the first performance of her career that I truly didn’t care for. As a villain, Davis does rise to the occasion in giving herself wholeheartedly to the material, but her energy here feels a few steps above cartoonish, with devilish deliveries that are only missing a sinister laugh and mustache twirl to reach conventionalism. Zegler is somehow much worse, both in the air of her inconsistent southern delivery, which felt so forced that I found myself straining my face each time she spoke, but also the complete lack of on-screen presence, which came so naturally to Jennifer Lawrence during the original films. As a protagonist in the games, Zegler feels too snarky to be sincere, and between a complete lack of chemistry with Blyth as their relationship turns romantic, her efforts directly underwhelm the importance of their dynamic, in turn leaving it feeling like a flirtatious fling instead of the irreplacable obsession that each of them served to the other in the novel.

“Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is another scope-spanning immersive invasion into the world of The Hunger Games, but one that unfortunately falls short of its iconic predecessors, both in the absence of depth from its uninteresting characters, as well as the sloppily rushed execution of its storytelling, which substitutes motivations for meandering. Though Lawrence’s direction has never been better in the confines of intensely urgent in-game action sequences that vividly articulate the overwhelming vulnerability of its contestants, its abrupt and underwhelming climax after two-and-a-half hours leaves its audience as cold and bitter as snow.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

7 thoughts on “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

  1. I did not find Snow’s-transition from good guy to bad guy to be smooth or logical. Also it seemed like the romance between Snow and Grey was a solid love affair but instead discinograted in 5 minutes flat. I felt it left many questions unanswered which is a huge annoyance for me. It certainly started out well and seemed promising but kinda fizzled out about halfway through. I found the fight scenes were excellent. Great review

  2. Thought this book was better than the trilogy that proceeded it….high hopes that I’ll enjoy it more than you did lol

  3. Agh this sounds like it’ll be a struggle for me. I didn’t read this book in the series and I thought the trilogy was good but not something I would watch over and over again. It’s a bummer to hear Zegler comes off too snarky instead of sincere, as that seems to be her brand as of lately eek! For all its characterization and rushed plot foibles, the most I can hope for is a visual spectacle it sounds like. I’ll keep that in mind to keep my expectations in a fair position. Thanks for this detailed review!

  4. It’s shocking that we continue to see films these days rush through the storytelling. With the 2 1/2 hour run times should be plenty of time to carry good pacing and establish a personal connection to characters along with resolving conflicts. Bummed about a mediocre performance out of his movie, but I will definitely look to try to enjoy when I finally see it. Awesome insight in the review!

  5. This one is interesting, because while I did feel the rush in storytelling, I personally only thought it was a major issue in the third act when it felt like it was skipping through crucial information. The first two acts though to me at least didn’t seem to sacrifice depth for good pacing, and I was quite enthralled for the first two acts despite being skeptical about this film. I do agree though that the chemistry between Zegler and Blyth was severly lacking, so much so that I entirely forgot about their ‘relationship’ for most of the movie. Still, this film reinvigorated my interest in the franchise and I want to go back and watch them all again and read the books which I think is a major plus to this one. Great review!

  6. This is one that I always felt was an unnecessary prequel. I really enjoyed the first two hunger games, but I never felt a need to know how Snow came to power. It sounds like they rushed through quite a bit of material, and it feels like the hunger games are a secondary story. I like the actors, especially Dinklage, but this is one that I think I’ll catch on streaming. Great review!

  7. I actually really liked it. For as much as it’s a long sigh of splitting a book into multiple movies. I think this would’ve really benefitted. The first 2 acts were strong and really compelling but gosh that third arc had too much heavy lifting of trying to showcase a slow loyalty bind, romance, an uprising and then the betrayal. I think there’s such strong elements but that third act could’ve been a entire movie. Really let that thing marinate and build chemistry.

    That said, I did enjoy it. I like the ambiguous ending that is left to haunt both of them of what ifs, Lawrence directed the hell out of it, I liked both leads singularly if not as much trying to rush the romance and ill never complain about Zeigler singing.

    Great review!

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