It’s been eight whole years since the sadistic spectacle of The Hunger Games came to a close and heroine, Katniss Everdeen went about her life. While it’s a prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes breathes new life into the franchise and finds a way to make it all feel brand new.
Set during the 10th annual Hunger Games, we witness a pivotal point where viewers are switching off and an injection of fresh ideas are desperately being sought to gain public interest again. The bland arena, the disinterest for its competitors and a steaming rebellion are factors to blame. In steps a studious, bright eyed Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) who is a lot less barbarous than the Presidential version we’ve seen 64 years into the future.
Snow is presented with Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a talented performer from District 12 as his mentee and there is a lot riding on this for him as he’s banking on the cash prize from her win to match up his disadvantaged home life with the regal picture he paints amongst his peers. There is desperate intensity from Blyth’s portrayal of Snow and to begin with it’s easy to forget about the man he becomes as you find yourself willing him to succeed.
Snow is lucky to fall into the radar of instigator, Dr. Volumnia Gail, who begins to utilise his ideas to benefit the games. Viola Davis has been a predominant presence in cinema for many years but I have never seen her like this before. She is completely scene stealing as Gail, portraying near on insanity and depravity in equal measure. I absolutely loved her in this film! She is clearly a massive influence on the man Snow becomes.
Of course, there are other characters who have large impacts on the narrative. John Andrés Rivera is instrumental in Snow’s journey as Sejanus Plinth who becomes a friend for him while steering justice for the unheard citizens of Panem. True to form, Peter Dinklage offers some cloak and dagger as Dean Casca Highbottom and Hunter Schafer gives Snow some grounding as his cousin, Tigris. There is ample chemistry within the cast to allow you to become invested in their characters.
The dystopian background to the film is its biggest character in showing the state of the world at the time and its deep rooted desperation and segregation. The first few minutes show exactly this. And what’s best about having this prequel is the deeper understanding we gain from seeing all of this as the political chess game becomes that bit clearer. So much so, that it becomes questionable whether winning the games is a better option than perishing during them.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes surpassed my expectations as it introduces an all new, albeit nostalgic, part of a beloved franchise. With no reason why we can’t revisit the games throughout the years, the film definitely leaves you wanting to explore more of the franchises’ history and characters.