The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Review

“Do you hear that? It’s the sound of Snow falling.”
Fallon Sherrill (11) snaps a pic after watching The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Fallon Sherrill (11) snaps a pic after watching The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Fallon Sherrill

*Contains Spoilers*

Nearly a decade after the release of Mockingjay–Part 2, the prequel of The Hunger Games franchise debuted on the big screen. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is set over sixty years before the rest of the franchise and follows Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) before his rise to power and shows his slow descent into madness. The film premiered on November 17th, bringing longtime fans of the series together for one last show, and possibly the best one yet.

At the beginning of the film, we see a young Coriolanus and his cousin, Tigris (Hunter Schafer), struggling during “the dark days” or the revolution. They are soon informed Coriolanus’ father was killed in the war. This is the start of his tragic backstory, as well as his struggle through poverty in the Capitol after the loss of his father. As he is near graduating from his respected academy, the class is informed that to earn the “Plinth Prize,” or their scholarship, was to be earned by being the best mentor to the tributes of the tenth Hunger Games. He is assigned to the flamboyant Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) who is immediately recognized as a natural performer when she begins singing at the reaping. While his classmates laughed and made fun of her talent, Snow used this as an opportunity to help him. He realizes that if a tribute does something that is worthy of the districts’ attention, it will bring in more viewers to the games, which is all the Capitol wants in the first place. 

As the tributes arrive in the Capitol, it is shown that they were not always pampered as seen in the first movie. They are thrown into a cage and put on display as if they were in a zoo, and even taken care of by a veterinarian. They were also not given the high-class transportation Katniss and Peeta grew so familiar with, instead they were put into the boxcars of a regular train and had to become roommates with bats for the long ride to the Capitol. However, Snow saw these conditions and figured Lucy Gray had more of a chance if she was fed, so he started offering what little he was given at the academy to her. He also made it clear that in order to attract sponsors from the Capitol and love from the audience, she had to sing. 

While the mentors and tributes are touring the arena and discussing strategies, the arena is bombed by rebellious districts, killing half of the tributes. Lucy Gray saves Coriolanus’ life before the screen cuts to him in the hospital with Tigris and his friend, Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera.) A screen is placed in his room, showing Lucy Gray performing an original song and winning more money from sponsors than any tribute combined. Shocked that the Games were still on, Snow roams the arena by himself to find anything that could give Baird an advantage. He meets with her that night, telling her to stick to the tunnels and handing her rat poison that could be used in case of an emergency. As he leaves, they exchange a kiss that leaves the audience rooting for their young love, the same way we did with Katniss and Peeta years ago. 

During the Games, Lucy Gray has to put on her best performance yet. She is left at a disadvantage, with a bloodthirsty career pack hunting her and her only alliance being her fellow 12 tribute who has a mean case of rabies. After he dies, she sticks to the vents and uses the rat poison to sprinkle onto the career pack who is more hungry for her than any other tribute. 

After the president’s nephew succumbs to his injuries from the bombing, head game maker Dr. Volumina Gaul (Viola Davis) announces all tributes will be killed, even if it means there is to be no victor. Snow immediately rips out the stitches he was given just for a chance to meet with Gaul. She tells him of her plan to drop deadly snakes into the arena. From his prior knowledge of these snakes, he knows they will not attack anyone they recognize the scent of, so he shoves a cloth that has wiped Lucy Gray’s cheek into the tank of snakes. When they are dropped into the arena they quickly take out all tributes aside from Baird. However, she is unaware they won’t attack her, so she starts singing to calm them as they climb her limbs. Snow demands that Gaul let her out of the arena, as well as the other mentors and the audience who were so moved by her performance. Snow says that no one would watch the Games if there was no victor, and since the Capitol is desperate to keep their hold of power over the districts by killing 24 of their children, Lucy Gray Baird is declared the victor of the tenth Hunger Games. 

Snow is soon sent to be a peacekeeper since he was caught cheating to get Lucy Gray ahead. He was placed in another district but bribed the guard into letting him into 12. Sejanus Plinth follows him, figuring he can make more change for the districts by being in them. They live a peaceful life, meeting in bars to watch Baird perform with her Covey (which gave us the highlight of the film: the soundtrack.) We get to watch sweet moments between Snow and Baird that trick us into believing they would be okay even though we know the story coming. It slowly becomes more apparent that Coriolanus hungers for something more than running away from the district to hunt and gather his own food. The major turn for him is when he records the secret conversation between him and Sejanus, who is planning on helping a group of rebels flee the district, and sends it to Dr. Gaul. Sejanus digs himself into a hole where he is unsure if he can trust the rebels, and drags Snow into a position where he shoots Billy. Since another rebel, Spruce, shot the mayor’s daughter, all peacekeepers are sent to find who did it. All evidence they found pointed to Sejanus and Spruce. They are hung and as Sejanus screams and begs for Coriolanus and his mother, Coriolanus stands and guards the hanging tree. 

After this incident, he agrees to run away with Lucy Gray in order to avoid the fate Sejanus suffered. On their way to the woods, he accidentally mentions killing three people, while Lucy Gray only knows of two, and the suspicious look on her face is an excellent foreshadowing of what is to come. Rain started pouring over the woods and the two stopped in the cabin they frequented with the Covey. Snow finds the gun he used when killing Billy, and Lucy Gray tells him she is going to go look for swamp potato, or as she calls it, “Katniss.” 

When she doesn’t return for a long period of time, he goes into the woods to look for her only to find the scarf he gave her covering a snake. This sends him into a fit of rage, using the guns to shoot the Mockingjays singing her song, “The Hanging Tree.” He sees, or at least thinks he sees Lucy Gray running through the woods and shoots at her. He runs to find where her body should be only to find that she is nowhere in sight.

Now that she has left him with nothing but rage and guilt, he returns to the Capitol because of a pardon given to him by Dr. Gaul. At this point, his once-strong bond with Tigris is gone as she only sees the evil in him. He is prepared to start fresh at the University for authoritarians with the money Sejanus Plinth’s family is using since they believed he was such a loyal friend to their son. 

I think that the movie could have expanded on Snow’s downfall more, although that was not the only part of the story that was rushed. Coming in at 2 hours and 37 minutes, it could have covered much more of the story if it was split into two movies or even a mini-series. However, the acting was incredible. The chemistry between each character was fantastic and made the audience forget what was coming as Snow betrayed each of them for his own glory. It also expanded on the social themes Collins has emphasized throughout the series of oppression and revolution. And all of this is happening with a great soundtrack such as Zegler’s “Nothing You Can Take From Me,” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Can’t Catch Me Now.” 

In my opinion, no movie can beat Catching Fire, however, this installment gave new life to the series that many franchises fail to deliver with such a long pause between movies. Tom Blyth perfectly executes the complicated character of the infamous President Snow while making the audience fall in love with the character before he became the sadistic man we saw on screens eight years ago. He provides a deeper look into the lengths people will go to for power and how it is achieved in a broken government such as Panem’s. This prequel provides a beautiful transition to The Hunger Games trilogy, as the Mockingjays he thought would never haunt him again live in Katniss Everdeen in the rebellion that would release his grip over the districts forever. 

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