When Olivia Rodrigo’s song came on and the credits started rolling, I couldn’t help but scratch my head. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is now in theaters And as a fan of the original filmsmonths and months of trailers had excited me enough to check it. But after almost three hours of story playing out on screen, I expected things to unfold in a satisfying and rewarding way. They do not have.
Set several decades ago the events of the first film, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes focuses largely on Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), the teenage version of the evil leader played by Donald Sutherland in the original films. In these films, Snow is the president of Panem and the big bad of the series. He’s basically the personification of the titular Games and the punishment and pain they inflict on the people of Panem. This new film aims to explain how he got there, which is a very exciting and tantalizing premise. What makes someone so diabolically evil? After seeing the movie, I’m not really sure.
Without reviewing every moment of the film, we learn early on that Snow’s family has faced hardships and that while they may seem wealthy, they are not. He is, however, an exemplary student and hopes to gain fortune and success through this hard work. He’s about to do so when the powers that be change the rules. Instead of having a fair chance at a prestigious scholarship, it will be decided by him and his fellow students acting as mentors during the 10th annual Hunger Games. These are annual events in which two children from each district are randomly chosen to battle each other to the death on television. Grades have been falling in recent years, and Snow and his classmates are tasked with changing that.
Snow gives the game’s creators all kinds of ideas to improve the competition, proving his genius, and he ends up, through many exciting and interesting scenes, not only helping his tribute to Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler) win, but to make it dear to the country. and himself. Unfortunately, Snow cheated to achieve this and is therefore punished by being sent to Lucy Gray’s home district. There, the couple manages to reconnect and explore their love, before a series of events makes Lucy Gray realize that Snow is not as pure as she hoped, and he returns to the capital ready to ascend the throne as we know it. I’m going to pretend.
Of all this, 75% works very well. Seeing Snow manipulate the games and cheat to help save her tribute has a clear and enjoyable progression. The fact that he then follows her to her district also comes off really well, and his balance of defiance and obedience during his stay aligns as well. But as Snow and Lucy Gray find themselves in multiple scenarios where Snow ends up selling her best friend and then killing another person to save her, the journey becomes confusing. We obviously see that there is bad ambition in him. A desire to succeed and succeed at all costs. But we also see his compassion and, when he decides to run away with Lucy Gray near the end, it seems that his compassion wins out.
This is where director Francis Lawrence makes, I think, his most egregious errors. After Snow and Lucy Gray run away together, she mysteriously disappears, leaving him feeling guilty, scared, and angry. It is this state that sends him back to civilization and ends the film. But the film doesn’t make Lucy Gray’s feelings toward Snow clear. It is unknown why or how she leaves him. We assume it’s because she realized he’d reported his friend and no longer trusted him, but a crucial piece of the puzzle to clarify this seems to be missing. Additionally, his immediate leap of anger towards her doesn’t follow. The end of the film follows these scenes so closely that you can’t help but say, “Is that it?” Which is not a good thing after a film that lasts well over two and a half hours.
Now, to be honest, I’ve only seen the movie once. Maybe I missed something. Perhaps there was a wink or a knowing look that helped merge Lucy Gray and Snow’s journeys. And yes, Snow then kills one of his main adversaries, Dean Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), upon his return to confirm that he is on the path to pure evil. But it still feels like there are huge gaps in this key relationship between Snow and Lucy Gray, particularly at the end, causing the film to fall apart ever so slightly when it had the most need to come together.
All this to say The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes not bad. Seeing the early days of the Games and a Panem decades before Katniss is certainly entertaining. But when the point of the movie is to be an origin story for a villain, this part should work better than anything else. And, in our minds, it’s the opposite.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is now in theaters.
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