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Derrick Dunn

Overlong runtime doesn’t hinder Hunger Games prequel

Director Francis Lawrence returns to helm the latest installment in the iconic Hunger Games franchise, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, produced by Lionsgate. Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt pen the film’s screenplay, and it serves as an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins.

The movie tells the story of a young Coriolanus (Tom Blyth), who belongs to the Snow family, a once-proud lineage that has fallen from grace after a post-war event in the Capitol. As his family’s fate hangs in the balance, Coriolanus is assigned to mentor a tribute named Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) from the impoverished District 12. However, after Lucy Gray’s charm captivates the audience of Panem, Coriolanus sees an opportunity to turn their fate around. He teams up with Lucy Gray, battles his inner demons to survive, and reveals whether he will become a songbird or a snake. The story is a thrilling race against time, exploring good and evil instincts.

Set against a struggling Panem, the prequel introduces viewers to a young Coriolanus Snow, a character whose evolution from an ambitious teenager to the formidable President Snow is a central focus of the narrative. Tom Blyth masterfully crafts a performance for a compelling and complex protagonist whose moral ambiguity and internal conflicts drive the story forward. As viewers follow Coriolanus’s experiences, they are offered a poignant and often unsettling glimpse into the darker corners of the Hunger Games universe, challenging them to reassess their perceptions of power, privilege, and morality.

The film’s exploration of the early iterations of the Hunger Games serves as a captivating focal point, shedding light on the evolution of the ruthless spectacle that defined the original trilogy. Through Coriolanus’s involvement in the 10th annual Hunger Games, viewers are immersed in a world of political intrigue, manipulation, and survival, with the director and writer delivering a gripping and nuanced portrayal of the games’ origins that will undoubtedly leave fans eager for more.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes also allows Rachel Zegler to show off her singing and portray a different kind of heroine in the franchise. Kudos to the writers for showcasing Collins’s unparalleled world-building and character-development skills. The vividly depicted setting of a post-war Panem, teetering on the brink of chaos, serves as a rich tapestry for the characters’ struggles and ambitions. Furthermore, the film’s exploration of the complexities of human nature, the impact of trauma, and the seductive allure of power add depth to the narrative, making for a genuinely compelling but overlong viewing experience.

While The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes may not offer the same adrenaline-fueled action and rebellion as the original trilogy, substantial supporting work from Jason Schwartzman, Viola Davis, and Peter Dinklage more than make you for the lack of action eye candy. In addition, director Francis Lawrence presents a more reflective and morally gray tale that is equally captivating in its own right. Fans of the series will find themselves engrossed in this meticulously crafted prequel, gaining new insights into the origins of Panem and the forces that shaped its future.

Final Grade: B

THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES is in theaters now and arrives on digital and VOD on December 19th

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Overlong runtime doesn’t hinder Hunger Games prequel