The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Eight years after the original trilogy wrapped up with The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay – Part 2, the dystopian hellscape world of The Hunger Games, along with director Francis Lawrence, has returned to the big screen with a tastefully poisonous prequel about one of the franchise’s most hated (and secretly beloved) characters: President Coriolanus Snow. Previously portrayed by screen veteran Donald Sutherland with his commanding voice and sinister eyes, the role in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is passed on to the up-and-coming Tom Blyth as the movie follows an 18-year-old Snow on the verge of a promising future in the rich comfort of the Capitol with The Hunger Games just days away from commencing.

Far from the clockwork pageantry we saw Jennifer Lawrence suffer through as the stubborn underdog Katniss in the original movies, in this installment, The Hunger Games, on just their 10th anniversary (64 years before first movie), seem to be on the verge of total collapse as viewership is almost non-existent. In light of this, one of the creators of the game himself, Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), has made it a task of some of the Capitol’s most prestigious students, Snow among them, to each mentor an assigned tribute from the districts in hopes of drawing more viewership to the Games. But this isn’t about winning. It’s about entertaining. As Highbottom describes it, the students’ job is to turn the tributes into spectacles, not survivors.

"a tastefully poisonous prequel about one of the franchise’s most hated (and secretly beloved) characters"

The promising young Snow, who’s determined to bring honor and riches back to his family name, gets assigned someone who perhaps just about perfectly fits Highbottom’s criteria: the charming and strong-headed songbird, Lucy Gray Bard (Rachel Zegler). Snow makes it a task to get close to her and, in turn, make sure the audience gets close to her, increasing their investment and interest in the games. But Snow strategy might get him in trouble in more ways than one, especially when he starts to get a little too close to Lucy.

It's hard to imagine that a whole series based around the dangers of war and kids killing themselves made into a spectacular even to get anymore animalistic and brutal, but somehow The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes does indeed to that. Absent the fancy gowns, the talk show interviews, the pastel food, the training center, and everything else we’d seen previously, there is no glamour and almost no waiting around for the games to start. This time around, the whole process is somehow made more disgusting as the tributes are delivered in a freight train and displayed in cages like animals for Capitol citizens to gawk and poke at. The arena is much smaller, and everything about the games is far more barbaric. Those who are fans of the series, I think, will appreciate not only seeing such a drastically different style in the games and process but will be very intrigued by Snow’s prevalent involvement in innovating The Hunger Games into what they would eventually become.The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Especially for a movie that is closing in on three hours, it is rare to have the feeling that it should have been longer. But in the case of this movie, it feels true. Diving into Snow’s back story, there is a dense amount of detail and information that is thrown at the audience. There are moments that are fleeting that feel like they could have had more time to develop and breath. The movie is split into three parts, yes, but it really does have the feeling like those parts could have been three separate movies and it would have actually benefitted the story, the pacing, and most importantly the relationships between the characters greatly.

It's really hard for me to say how this prequel fits in with the other movies in the franchise. The characters, for the most part, are pretty different from what we’d seen before. We’re primarily stuck in the perspective of people in Capitol, even if Snow is the bottom of the barrel in that high society, giving him a bit of a sympathetic edge. Though we are still in Panem, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes feels like a different world. It is very different seeing and experiencing life in the Capitol for an extended period of time, not just visiting it.

All in all, I think that this is a very interesting addition that offers a complicated side to this world (though everything about The Hunger Games world is complicated). Blyth, Zegler, Dinklage, and a mad-scientist-y Viola Davis as the head game maker, Dr. Volumnia Gaul all give strong and layered performances that each make their characters memorable in their own right. It has a strong and compelling story that, once again, centers on the morals and dangers surrounding war and really questions whether or not a world like this has room for love and trust. My only wish is that this story had had more time and space that could have made it that much better.  

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is now playing in theaters.

3/5 stars

Film Details

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
157 mins
: Francis Lawrence
Michael Lesslie; Michael Arndt; Suzanne Collins
Rachel Zegler; Tom Blyth; Viola Davis
: Action | Adventure
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping."
Theatrical Distributor:
Lions Gate
Official Site:
Release Date:
November 17, 2023
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

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


The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes