HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) – The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes centers on Coriolanus Snow, the Donald Sutherland character in the original Jennifer Lawrence-starring The Hunger Games (2012), and tells the story of a young Snow who must usher a District 12 tribute through the tenth annual Hunger Games. This prequel, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, is directed by Francis Lawrence and stars Tom Blyth as Snow and Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray, the tribute who must survive the battle royale. Costarring are Peter Dinklage, Viola Davis, Jason Schwartzman, and Hunter Schafer.

More than anything else, Blyth and Zegler are what make The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes work. They sell the love story in the connection between these two characters in addition to always adding an underlying element of suspicion. Neither can be too sure what angles each character is playing. To what degree is Snow motivated by a genuine affection, and to what degree is Snow manipulating the whole outcome for his own selfish ends? And the same questions can be reversed for Lucy Gray with the additional stakes of her literal life being on the line.

Ultimately the film becomes a story about descent into fascism and how people can be kind and affectionate in everyday interactions but retain political points of view that end up being fascistic and genocidal. For all the villain origin stories we’ve seen – from Joker (2019) to the Star Wars prequels – the one that feels most grounded in a tragic, Shakespearean character arc is The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Not for nothing, Coriolanus Snow shares a name with the title character of Shakespeare’s play, Coriolanus, a story about a Roman general resisting the spread of democracy.

The film’s structure makes The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes feel longer than it should. There is a second act restart; after the film’s second act, the action shifts and slows, and new conflicts take over in the third act. Also, some of the CGI in the wide establishing shots looks terrible.

When The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was first announced, first as a novel then as an adaptation, I feared it would be another naked cash grab; after all, this is the franchise the divided the last book into two movies in order to further milk the box office. But against all odds and with the help of Blyth and Zegler’s nuanced performances, this Hunger Games prequel works and adds new dimension to old villains.

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