Coriolanus Snow mentors and develops feelings for the female District 12 tribute during the 10th Hunger Games.

Chuck says:

Far better than anticipated, Francis Lawrence’s “Hunger Games” prequel, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” proves to be a worthy addition to the franchise, one that reminds us of what made these stories distinctive among the rash of YA dystopian novels that swept the market 15 years ago. Lionsgate has gone all out to revive its dormant franchise, attracting big-name talent, and spending $100 million to bring Suzanne Collins’ novel to the big screen. The production is impressive and while it is yet another bloated film that runs a half hour too long, this proves to be a mostly engaging piece of popcorn entertainment, benefitting greatly from its cast of talented veterans and newcomers.

Taking place some 60 years before the adventures of Katniss Everdeen, the Hunger Games, a gladiatorial event used to keep the masses in check, is in trouble. In addition to being a tool of oppression, it’s big business as well.  Unfortunately, ratings are down and in order to boost them, the creator of these televised death matches, Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), has come up with a way to renew interest in them. He’s assigned the tributes from each district to a mentor, whose job is to make them more charismatic and sympathetic, the theory being that if viewers can relate to them personally, they will be more invested in them and how they do in the games.

It’s a good idea but it can be improved upon, and Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) is just the man to do so. The scion of a once powerful family, he and his family now live in poverty, their hopes hanging on his getting a valuable scholarship that will save them. As a mentor to District 12’s tribute Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), he sees a way to wining it, as the young woman has a natural charisma he can exploit. What he doesn’t count on is falling in love with her.

Of all the YA dystopian tales, “Games” was always the starkest and, as a result, the most engaging. The stakes are higher here and Collins’ characters are fully drawn so our emotional investment with them makes for a more engaging experience. That the very plot of this film revolves around that kind of vicarious, cathartic experience is no coincidence. Blyth and Zegler are very engaging and that certainly helps, their scenes alive amidst the dour locale. Dinklage brings a solemnity to the proceedings while Viola Davis and Jason Schwartzman steal every scene they’re in as mad scientist Dr. Volumnia Gual and TV host Lucky Flickerman respectively, each trying to outdo the other in terms of scenery rending.

The film suffers from the fact that the death match takes place in only one location, a sense of stagnation setting in early on, while the third act is needlessly padded, though I suppose necessary to set up the sure-to-come sequel. That being said, there’s still enough meat here to make this worthwhile. Collins’ heavy-handed metaphor concerning government oppression and the elimination of freedom and individuality is effectively driven home and more pertinent than ever.  In the end, “Snakes” works because of its ability to get us to identify with Snow and Baird, people caught in a no-win situation, forced to sell their very souls to survive, the tragedy effectively cutting through the dystopian artifice.

3 Stars


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