Rob Reviews "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes"
In the age of the prequel, the downside is that filmmakers take too much time trying to shoehorn in references to the storylines that their films are designed to lead up to. Retroactive storytelling can be a rough thing to deal with, but sometimes it’s alright to just tell a story that can give the reasoning behind what we all know is to come and just sprinkle in references here and there as reminders of where this is all going. One of the best versions I have seen of this in recent years is The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Francis Lawrence returns to the director’s chair for this series that he has been in since Catching Fire that takes place sixty-four years before the events of Katniss Everdeen and her cohorts to witness the story of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth). He does his best after the passing of his father (who was instrumental in the creation of The Hunger Games themselves) to keep the illusion of prestige his family had while living in less than desirable conditions with his grandmother (Fionnula Flangan) and sister, Tigris (Hunter Schafer). Everything relies on him getting the prestigious Plinth Prize, which would solve all of his family’s financial woes, but a curveball is thrown his way with a change in The Hunger Games. With viewership down, it is decided by the current president and game master, Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), that each of the students in his class will mentor a competitor in that year’s games to vie for the prize. Snow winds up with Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) from District 12, and while he does his best to help her survive, his entire world hangs in the balance on every level.
This is one of those franchises that I know just enough about to be able to follow the story as it goes, and this could be the best of them. From the dark colors contrasted by bright reds (for a reason) that keep the tone of the film right where it needs to be at any given moment to a rich story that although really focuses on one person gives stakes and intrigue to those around him, The Hunger Games: The Song of Songbirds and Snakes far exceeded my expectations for it. Broken into three “parts,” the story goes far beyond the games themselves to give a true big picture to whom Snow would become and why he would be that way. There is also another foil to his character in Dean Casca Highbottom, played brilliantly (as always) by Peter Dinklage, whose intentions may not be clear at first but the results of those intentions make Snow’s quest for redemption that much more complicated. Davis is also absolutely on par for the type of performance one would expect, but it is also fun to see her play the villain because she absolutely seems to enjoy it on the biggest of scales. The two-and-a-half hour run time is the first of its length that I felt in a long time, but I respect the fact that due to the amount of story that is being told here, it was kind of necessary to run that long.
Even with all of this, there is only one thing that my entire evaluation of this film hinges on, and it is the chemistry between the two main characters of Snow and Baird. Thank goodness they knock it out of the park here. Consider the fact that this is only Zegler’s THIRD FILM EVER as she shows an amazing balance of strength and grit while also conveying the playfulness that a character that is for all intents and purposes part of a gypsy tribe, and I was constantly amazed by her performance. Blyth, who if you look at his resume is really in the same place in his career in adulthood, plays off of her to absolute perfection while having a level of anger and steely gaze that reminds me of a young Neal McDonough in his delivery, giving Snow that much more of “that young man may not be quite right” vibe that is necessary here.
Being able to see this film in IMAX was pretty cool, but it is not necessarily mandatory for this one. A premium format may enhance the experience, but it would still be fun in something like Dolby Atmos. I can’t say I wouldn’t go back to the theater here, but the run time might be easier to deal with the second go ‘round because I knew what to expect from a story progression standpoint and could time any “breathers” I needed accordingly. Regardless, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is definitely one that should be checked out!