20th Nov2023

‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’ Review

by Alex Ginnelly

Stars: Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, Fionnula Flanagan, Hunter Schafer, Ashley Liao, Joshua Kantara, Amélie Hoeferle, Hunter Schafer | Written by Michael Lesslie, Michael Arndt | Directed by Francis Lawrence

It’s been eight years since we last visited the world of Panem. Now the world spans to five films and this time we’re sent back over 60 years to see the 10th annual Hunger Games and the rise of Coriolanus Snow (the President of Panem in the original movies, played by Donald Sutherland). This time Snow is played by newcomer Tom Blyth, who has to carry the runtime of the film all by himself. He’s joined for the most part by Rachel Zegler, who plays Lucy Gray.

The two leads carry the film effortlessly, Tom Blyth in particular does a fantastic job of giving complexity to Snow, showcasing a flawed but ambitious character as we slowly see his loss of humanity grow on screen. The film, unlike its predecessors, feels more intimate than ever before. It takes its focus and aims it to the characters themselves. There is still excellent world-building throughout, which was always one of the original film’s best qualities, but the main focus here does seem to be on character and relationships and it asks more morally grey questions than ever before. For a moment The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes does feel like it loses itself and gets wrapped up in two different films.

At the halfway point the film takes a sharp turn that did take me a while to come to terms with, but once it gets into the swing of its own story it becomes the most interesting part of the film. Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler both prove they’ve got huge futures ahead of them and will be ones to watch. The rest of the cast are all fantastic too. It’s hard to remember the last big blockbuster that was cast this well. Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage, and Jason Schwartzman are all entertaining for every moment they hold the screen, and I was desperate to spend more time with them. Dinklage in particular reminds everyone he should be on our screens all the time and his last scene was one of my favourite performances of the year.

As someone who never loved the original movie, but did like the first two entries, I was pleasantly surprised how the film has stayed with me and wanted me to already revisit the world. The film is split into two stories, but both offer something different and unique, something entertaining, and something thoughtful. I have no doubts fans of the series will once again get their appetite back for the series and there are surely endless possibilities for this world. For me, the moments that should be taken further are the moments the film takes to show morally grey characters and their relationships to each other, and the world around them. Unlike previous films, the characters feel more grounded and relatable, making the intimacy between them feel like the stakes are not only world-changing, but emotionally impactful as well.

It isn’t however without its flaws. The 2 hour 37 minute runtime does make the film feel its length and at moments it does feel like it’s about to lose its grip until it catches back on again. Luckily throughout every moment you feel the film getting wrapped up in itself, the performances of the actors keep you hooked enough until the film finds its feet again.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes feels more intimate and focused than any film in the series so far. With scale and scope that matches previous entries, it’s a great reminder that this world does have possibilities and there are more stories to explore. Lessons from previous films seem to have been learned and this has created a thoroughly entertaining franchise film, that stands out amongst other blockbusters from the last few years.

**** 4/5

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


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