‘THE Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ is a prequel to the first four “Hunger Games” movies shown from 2012 to 2015. It is set more than 60 years before the first movie and the lead character is Coriolanus Snow, who was the president of their land, Panem, in the first movies, as played by Donald Sutherland.
The young Snow is now played by Tom Blyth, who gets his biggest movie role here after playing the title role in “Billy the Kid”, an Epix TV series. Snow is supposedly 18 years old and this is the movie’s first big mistake because Blyth is 28 years old in real life and he certainly looks it.
Snow has been chosen to be one of the 24 mentors in the coming 10th Hunger Games. His father was a general who died in the first rebellion of the Districts against Panem’s Capitol. He’s a student in the Academy and wants to win the prize for scholarship in the games.
The games was organized by the Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), dean of the Academy, and Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), the current head of the games who manages them. They want the games to be entertaining so they can have higher viewership ratings.
Snow is assigned to mentor Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler, from Spielberg’s “West Side Story”), a singer from District 12. Snow helps her to gain viewers sympathy, much to the chagrin of the midget Casca who wants him to fail.
In the course of the games, one female mentor is killed by her own male tribute (which is how they call their students) for taunting him. Rebel bombs explode in the games venue, wrecking the place and killing several people. Snow is felled by falling debris but Lucy Gray returns just to save him.
Despite the bombing, they proceed with the games and several tributes quickly die in the subsequent blood bath. Lucy Gray’s life is put in danger a couple of times, but Snow saves her, with the help of rat poison and specially when Volumnia releases poisonous snakes and Snow helps Lucy Gray to escape it unscathed while she is singing to the snakes!
Lucy Gray emerges as the winner and Volumnia initially refuses to declare her as the games’ victor but she is pressured by the people who chanted that Lucy Gray should be freed.
The midget Casca reprimands Snow for helping Lucy Gray cheat and sends him to the Districts to serve as a soldier called Peacekeeper. This the film’s last part is anti-climactic and becomes cumbersome viewing as it goes to a different direction showing the inherent dark side of human nature in Snow.
Snow and Lucy Gray meet again and so many other things happen to them. But honestly, we’ve already lost our interest.
One reason why “The Hunger Games” movies worked is due to the dynamic presence of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, who made the first four films a heroic tale of woman empowerment. Without her in it, the prequel is just not as engaging or interesting.
Tom Blyth is a bland hero and he is basically a villain. Rachel Zegler is a great singer, but she is no JLaw. The movie ended with Snow on his way to gain more power in Panem. So we can expect a continuation of his exploits in another sequel. But if you’d ask us, who cares?
Viola Davis hams it up as one of the main villains, wearing outrageous costumes, hairdo and make up. Peter Dinklage makes no impression as the other villain and why they got a midget for the role of Casca Highbottom is quite a mystery. This movie runs needlessly for 2 hours and 40 minutes and there are so many boring stretches, most of them thanks to Davis and Dinklage as the annoying villains.