It’s been eight years since the release of the last “Hunger Games” film, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2,” which means enough time has passed that it seems appropriate to return to the well that produced big box office dollars for Lionsgate and made star Jennifer Lawrence a household name. It also helps that author Suzanne Collins published a prequel novel in 2020, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents,” which explores the young adult life of Coriolanus Snow, the tyrannical president of Panem played by Donald Sutherland in the previous one (although chronologically later).
There’s something comforting about falling back into the world of Panem, dystopian and brutal as it is, especially in the capable hands of director Francis Lawrence, who helmed three of the four “Hunger Games” films: “Catching Fire” and the two “Mockingjay”. » payments. He’s a true craftsman and daring visual stylist, bringing a Cold War Soviet twist to Panem 64 years before Katniss Everdeen.
“The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” invites viewers to learn about the story of Coriolanus, played here by Tom Blyth, and to witness the early days of the Hunger Games, in which the game’s creators discover how to wield the spectacle of children kill each other for sport as a propaganda tool.
Although the Hunger Games have already been taking place for 10 years in the era of “Songbirds and Serpents”, the film follows the addition of mentors for the young tributes, here selected from the best students of a wealthy academy in the capital . Coriolanus is the orphaned scion of an aristocratic family that lost everything in the war: he lives in a once spectacular ruined apartment with his declining grandmother and his cousin Tigris, played by a wonderful Hunter Schafer, who is unfortunately relegated to the house for almost the entire film.
Corio, as he is nicknamed, strives to be the best and keep up appearances; When a cash prize is on the line for being the best mentor and bringing attention to the Hunger Games, he sets about the task, earning the trust of his tribute, a fiery and feisty young woman from District 12, a singer folk. named Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler).
The film is essentially the “Star Wars” prequel to the world of the “Hunger Games,” as we watch Coriolanus grow from an idealistic young man to a power-hungry sadist, much in the same way we saw Anakin Skywalker become Dark Vader. The problem? George Lucas took three films to show us Anakin’s fall into darkness. Lawrence and screenwriters Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt attempt to do it in a single, overloaded episode.
There’s a very good “Hunger Games” movie here, in the first 95 minutes. Sure, it’s a little predictable and overwrought, but the style is great, the characters are endearing, and Viola Davis and Jason Schwartzman devour the scenery as game boss Dr. Volumnia Gaul and Lucretius “Lucky » Flickerman, the first television host. games. Then the third part begins.
In 45 minutes – after watching an entire bloody Hunger Games unfold – the audience must follow Coriolanus to District 12 where he is banished to work as a peacekeeper, then witness his transformation from young man in love to right-wing fascist of Panem. The character beats just aren’t followed, and it’s exhausting to even try to keep up with them.
Part Three feels like a sequel that was hastily thrown together, with a distinctly different look and feel, set in the retro-industrial Appalachia of District 12, and characters in completely different psychological mindsets. As a book adaptation it makes sense, but as cinematic storytelling it doesn’t work, and it’s a shame these aren’t two different films.
The good news is that Blyth is great and gives a stellar performance as Coriolanus. The problems with the character changes are never about what he does on screen, but the lack of writing, or perhaps hastily cut scenes that would have helped to understand him better. Zegler cements his star status in a role that showcases his vocal strengths – his bluegrass performances are incredibly engaging. There’s so much that works in “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents,” it’s a shame that it was all crammed into one overly long movie.
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”
2.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA Ranking: PG-13 (for highly violent content and disturbing content)
Operating time: 2:37
How to watch: At the cinema Friday