While we unanimously agree that villains are ‘evil’, it doesn’t stop us from wondering what drove them to be insane and cruel. Filmmakers often throw in snippets, explaining what led them to behave the way they do – societal pressures pulling them to madness or a loss of a loved one- painting the character in shades of grey. While we don’t have answers for every villain, Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, an adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s pop culture phenomenon Hunger Games prequel book, does attempt navigating this tricky business. As the title promises, it’s a thrilling tale from the early days of the titular games in which children are conscripted for elite entertainment. A movie where the ending isn’t a major spoiler because we know what happens next in the past Hunger Games movies.
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A Gripping Plot
Non-franchise fans may not understand why people are crying all over Instagram over this blonde boy, aka President Snow. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes puts us in teenage Coriolanus Snow’s shoes, played by the charming Tom Blyth. Who later becomes Panem’s president. However, the Coriolanus we witness here is an orphan student who is determined to restore his destitute family to their former splendour. The conflict with the Districts entirely destroyed the Snows, as it did most of the Capitol. Despite their limited means, Coriolanus and his cousin Tigris, played by Hunter Schafer, do their hardest to maintain their social standing in high society. Their only chance of money is if Coriolanus wins the coveted Plinth award by finishing first in his class at the academy.
But this year’s Plinth Prize winner will be chosen by a brand-new exam: The Hunger Games. Where an academy student has mentor a Hunger Games tribute. This is where the songbird enters the story: Lucy Gray Baird, played by Rachel Zegler, a tribute from District 12, is sent for Coriolanus. But don’t expect her to resemble Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss in any way. Lucy Gray is a performer who has the ability to both hurt and win hearts with a single ballad. And when the games start, we witness Coriolanus and Lucy trying their best to prevail and not end up dying.
Everyone loves a good villain arc, and this almost 3-hour-long film delivers it with power. The film doesn’t criticise Snow’s younger self, even though fans know what kind of monster he is going to turn into in the future. Rather, it makes us see this broken boy who has ambitions for a better future and who must make decision after decision that will shape the sort of person he ends up being.
And it doesn’t help that Coriolanus makes you question your morals and gain sympathy. For the audience, he is an underdog, especially because of the predicament of his family. And he bends all the rules to help Lucy Gray win the Hunger Games as much as for him. The movie will make you question how much of that desire is self-serving as opposed to a selfless wish to keep her alive? The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes plays with your allegiance to Coriolanus throughout the film, making your heart and head throb with conflicted feelings.
We can also attribute our sympathy towards Coriolanus to Tom Blyth’s performance, as he does a magnificent job balancing both sides, from Coriolanus’s allegiance to his family to his sinister plans in games. With his strong performance, Blyth leads an outstanding ensemble cast in the movie. Rachel Zegler is almost the verison of Lucy the bookworms have ever imagined, quite brilliantly. Even though Hunter Schafer has little screen time, she brings out a softer, sweeter part of the Snow family as Tigris, sparkling every scene.
Viola Davis as Dr. Volumnia Gaul, Head Gamemaker, will leave you terrified, as she is the main reason for Snow turning a villain. Whether she’s interacting with those deadly rainbow snakes or delving into the true meaning of the Games, Davis eats up the landscape with an evil delight. Peter Dinklage’s Casca Highbottom, the Dean of the Academy and the man who created the Games, counterbalances his love of the games. Dinklage is solemn, carrying the burden of the Games on his permanently lowered shoulders, in contrast to Davis’ crazy demeanour.
A Ballad in True Sense
The Hunger Games has always delivered heartbreaking tunes, adding an extra reason for the audience to fall in love with the franchise. This time, Olivia Rodrigo is all set to grab her first Oscar nomination with her song in the movie. Can’t Catch Me Now is more than a tune; the lyrics perfectly translate Snow’s and Lucy’s dynamic, showing how even after 64 years, Snow is haunted by his old flame’s or past love’s memories.
Every song sung by Rachel Zegler in the movie narrates the situation. The part where she is singing The Hanging Tree to Snow solves a major the Hunger Games question and explains why Snow despised Katniss so much in the films.
In the end, the story of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is dynamic; it captures the magic that made The Hunger Games so popular while offering a deeper, more complex examination of the corruption at the core of Panem. And a milestone for book-to-movie adaptations.