The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes snuck past plenty of casual fans of The Hunger Games when Suzanne Collins’ novel was released in May of 2020. The world may have been too busy dealing with our own world events, but nevertheless, the prequel promised an exciting story that fans had not expected. After years of anticipation, the film adaptation has finally dropped in theatres, and it’s one that won’t go unnoticed. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes features an all-new cast including Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler, a fresh version of the games, and a story that makes you crave more, so we’re here with this review to dive into the good (and the bad) about this dystopian action prequel.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Review – Did We Need This?
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes takes place 64 years before the events of the original Hunger Games trilogy. The games, where 24 district children must fight to the death, are still in their infancy – and they’re facing a problem that Katniss’s games wouldn’t have dreamt of: nobody wants to watch them. So, gamemakers are tasked with making it more exciting.
An 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (a.k.a. the villain from the original trilogy) becomes one of the first to mentor tributes within the game. He has been selected to mentor Lucy Gray Bird, a spunky girl from District 12. She doesn’t have the best odds, but Coriolanus is in luck: she doesn’t have to win; she just has to entertain. But things become tricky when he starts to form a bond with the girl in the hours leading up to her likely death.
Like each film (and book) that took place before it, the story is not just about the Hunger Games themselves. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes shows us the before, during, and after of the games, taking care to review the special traumas that come from a war. What makes this story all the more eerie is that we know what Coriolanus Snow becomes. There is a creeping dread through all of his interactions with Lucy Gray, as we know his later hatred of District 12 through his relationship with Katniss Everdeen. While the film does take unexpected twists and turns, we know that snow falls on top.
All of the installments in the franchise carry a dark tone. They’re about children murdering each other, as well as a fascist government, after all. But somehow, this one has an even darker tone than the rest, and it starts from the very beginning with some tragically implied cannibalism. This atmosphere will remain and be especially prominent once we’re taken into the 10th annual Hunger Games. The tributes actually look like kids (unlike the young adults playing tributes in the original trilogy), and there’s no place to hide in the early arenas.
Francis Lawrence directed The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, bringing him back from 3/4 of the earlier films. This helped the film feel more cohesive within the franchise. Lawrence’s touch is felt in all aspects of this movie. The intensity in the visuals helps us feel like we’re seeing a real world that we’ve come to know and fear, and the cinematography is exactly as excellent as we would have expected.
Ultimately, the film does its best with its world-building. We know what becomes of the Capitol and the districts, but Songbirds & Snakes helps us understand them further. We see the early failures of the gamemakers, the initial hesitancy of the population to grasp the importance of the games, and the darkness that came before they began. It brings a whole new level of appreciation for what we’ve already seen.
A Franchise Filled With Star Power
Another strength that is carried on from the earlier films is the stellar casting. While characters (or their relatives) return (like Snow, as well as Tigris, Lucky Flickerman, and more), we see a new set of faces. The cast features some well-known stars, who unsurprisingly excel in their roles. This includes Viola Davis as Dr. Volumnia Gaul (the head gamemaker), Peter Dinklage as Casca Highbottom (one of the creators of the Hunger Games), and Jason Schwartzman as Lucky Flickerman (the host of the games.)
It is Tom Blyth (Snow) and Rachel Zegler (Lucy Gray) who lead the film and give it an exceptional amount of heart. Their personalities couldn’t be more different, but their chemistry is almost as compelling as Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in the original trilogy.
Despite its strengths, the film is far from perfect. Its biggest struggle is found within its pacing. We seem to race into the story of Snow and Lucy Gray but go on to find ourselves watching the games at a good speed. But despite the decent amount of runtime remaining after the games come to an end, the rest of the plot passes by in the blink of an eye. It almost feels like it should have been broken into two films so that the post-games story could get the care that it deserves. However, Lawrence has previously discussed how bad the reaction was for doing the same thing to Mockingjay, adding that he would never dream of splitting Songbirds & Snakes into two.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes doesn’t quite carry the same emotional weight as The Hunger Games. We also have fewer characters to root for. And, as Snow says in the film, people need characters to root for. So, we’re hesitant to say it comes anywhere near the greatness of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, or either part of Mockingjay. Though, it is a fine prequel and one that fans will want to see.
More than anything else, my review of The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is that it makes me want to see more. Katniss competes in the 74th annual Hunger Games, which gives us 63 unseen competitions. The competent worldbuilding here is a reminder that Panem is full of stories. Some that seem the most obvious to tell are Haymitch and Finnick’s game wins or the 1st Quarter Quell. There is a wealth of potential, and we’re unsure of how it will be tapped into, especially after its underperformance at the box office.
I consider myself a pretty big fan of The Hunger Games. I watch the original trilogy at least once a year and have read the books a few times apiece. And I consider the latest film in the franchise to be a winner, with any gripes not comparing to its strengths. If Suzanne Collins has more in her, then I’ll be amongst the first in line to read.
Readers, what is your review of The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes? Did The Hunger Games prequel live up to your expectations? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Review: Unneeded but Worth Watching
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Cinematography/Visual Effects - 10/1010/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 8/108/10
- Setting/Theme - 10/1010/10
- Watchability - 8/108/10
- Rewatchability - 6/106/10