Sixty-four years before Katniss’ The Hunger Games (2012), young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) is attempting to earn a scholarship with great rewards. On the day Coriolanus expects to receive the prize for all his strenuous efforts, unexpected changes are made to the rules. Now, Coriolanus and fellow students are required to mentor tributes for the upcoming Hunger Games. Each student is paired with a tribute from a district, and it’s in their best interest to mentor them so they survive the ultimate battlefield. The last survivor of The Hunger Games and their mentor will be deemed the winner. It’s announced that Coriolanus will oversee and mentor Lucy Grey Baird (Rachel Zegler), who comes from District 12. For Lucy, it’s about survival; for Coriolanus, it’s about riches and greater rewards, including hopes of one day being part of the high council. As Coriolanus connects with Lucy, feelings for one another begin to grow. As they work closely together, will they win the tenth annual Hunger Games?
For those unaware, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes was directed by Francis Lawrence, who is no stranger to the popular film franchise, given that he previously directed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2. Going into the film, I knew little about Coriolanus’s past and had never read the novels. I didn’t think this character would carry a prequel, but to my surprise, I was highly invested for the entire runtime, enjoying the action and drama.
Performances from the supporting cast are outstanding. Viola Davis, Jason Schwartzman, and Peter Dinklage are well-cast and appear to enjoy being part of this universe. Tom Blyth as Coriolanus is also great, while Rachel Zegler, for the most part, is acceptable. I can’t deny her character seemed a little unfitting at times, including during scenes where she is required to sing. As for pacing, the film is broken down into three chapters, and as the third chapter began, I was surprised to see a significant change in the pace, storyline, and direction. Sadly, this slows the entire film considerably, but thankfully, the finale is surprising and pleasing. Set designs and costumes are awe-inspiring, along with the perfectly fitting score by James Newton Howard.
Overall, this is a stunning backstory to the world’s darkest days. Following Snow and his attempt to make it big in the Capitol is surprisingly exciting and gripping. The cast and their performances are terrific and fun (especially Viola Davis!), and the costumes and sets are an incredible sight. The runtime is questionable and slightly dragged through the third act, which introduces a different tone and shift in the story. I loved the score by James Newton Howard; however, whenever the leading character sang, it felt highly out of place and affected the vibes greatly.