The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Just like “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” before it, “The Hunger Games” was almost inevitable to get its own series of prequels. “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” proves that there might be intriguing elements to how the Games got started, but ultimately, too many stretches keep it from reaching its potential.

This prequel takes place 64 years before the events of “The Hunger Games.” Tom Blyth stars as a young Coriolanus Snow as a mentor in Panem, teaching Tributes how to survive the Games.

Snow’s Tribute is Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler), a musician who manages to charm Snow and the rest of Panem with her singing abilities. She’s the Songbird in the title. Together she and Snow have nice moments of chemistry.

Peter Dinklage is Dean Casca Highbottom, the creator of The Hunger Games, who has a personal vendetta against Snow and wants to see him fail.

The scenes involving the Tributes are somewhat effective, and the movie has impressive eye candy that holds our attention. One thing in favor of this series is its consistently fascinating visuals.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” was directed by Francis Lawrence, who made the last three movies in the series. He is in his element and knows how to make the material come alive in ways that most Young Adult novels never realize.

Still, this prequel hits quite a few roadblocks. For every scene with great energy and style, there are a few that bog down the movie with plot points that lose our interest and make it hard to stay invested in any future follow-ups.

The characters are only marginally intriguing, but Blyth, Zegler, Dinklage, and even Viola Davis as a gamemaker do get their scenes to shine. I only wish they were given a better script to fit the world they’re trying to build.

There are some unique inconsistencies at work here. While “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” doesn’t succeed narratively, it carries the same spirit as its predecessors. I just hope the odds will be in favor of better scripts for the rest of this series.

Grade: C+

(Rated PG-13 for strong violent content and disturbing material.)

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