Long before there is was a Katniss Everdeen, future victor of The Hunger Games and Panem’s number one revolutionary icon was Lucy Gray Baird, a young woman who also hailed from District 12 and was recruited as a tribute in the annual death march of fascist entertainment in the world. She had a beautiful voice, a spine of steel, and enough wit to have the odds stacked in her favor for 10 years.th edition of The Hunger Games. They were a little different back then: no one had yet figured out how to employ genetically modified wasps or baboons, and much of the action was relegated to a gladiator-friendly arena rather than a mechanical island. But the plan for future tournaments was basically already in place: 24 kids, two per district, only one returning home alive.
However, this would be the first year that the games would assign mentors to each of the tributes. And Baird would be lucky as to who would help her navigate this child-killing contest: a handsome and empathetic 19-year-old military cadet named Coriolanus Snow…
These names mean something enough to put you on edge with excitement, or conjure up huge cartoon question marks above your head. Like so many previous youth trilogies, Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games The books managed to convert a rabid audience into a mega movie series and a mainstream pop culture phenomenon. Even your mom knew who Katniss Everdeen was. And like many big screen franchises, she quickly became caught up in her own ever-expanding story and began to lose the plot, literally and figuratively. It was still a given that when Collins published a prequel novel in 2020, Hollywood would come calling. But the “last” movie… The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 – hit theaters in 2015. That’s almost a decade in human years, more than a century in dog years, and several millennia in franchise years. How much currency did this IP still have? And in a world where new cinematic universes seem to pop up every few months, did fans still have room for the dystopian pop kingdom of Panem?
So thanks to Plutarch Heavensbee who The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes at least it captures the teen angst, soon-to-be-apocalypse vibe, and giddy, over-the-top gestures of that original four-film series. Set some 60 years before Katniss offered herself as a tribute, this “chapter zero” entry returns us to the familiar, if momentarily forgotten, world of Collins’s imagined totalitarian nation. Francis Lawrence, who directed all of the Hunger Games films except the first, is back behind the camera. The commoners still look like they came out of a Dorothea Lange portfolio. Patricians still dress like they just left the Met Gala to compete RuPaul’s Drag Race. The media is still toxic and unpleasant, because art still imitates life. The games must still continue. Only the incredibly flowery and practically unpronounceable names have changed.
Except Coriolanus Snow, of course. Forget about Donald SutherlandThe elitist, bearded, wise-cracking villain of the original four-film trilogy. Here is the young, attractive and not yet corrupt version of the future president, courtesy of billy the kid‘s Tom Blyth. Snow has seen his family torn apart by the “dark days” of the District Revolt; However, the promise he has shown at the Academy has impressed several of his superiors. In particular, Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), the main game creator and the boss-sociopath-in-charge. If Snow’s ward in the games wins, he will be in line to receive a scholarship that will allow him, his ailing grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) and his cousin Tigris (Euphoria‘s hunter schafer) forever. When she discovers that she is mentoring Lucy Gray Baird of District 12 (Raquel Zegler), it seems that they have given him a bad blow. He then watches her stay calm during a volatile “harvest” ceremony and sing a folkloric song to the camera. She can win over a crowd. He can work with this.
Having placed his chess pieces in their appropriate squares, Ballad he gets into the usual business of moving them around, bumping them into each other, and systematically knocking them off the board. There is a friend of Snow’s, Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera), who represents both camaraderie and moral conflict. There are more villains to make fun of, namely the school’s drunken dean, Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), who has an ax to grind with Coriolanus, and Lucretius Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman), a television personality who has a special interest in people who don’t know who he is. (Both knights continue with the great The Hunger Games tradition of impressive facial hair, with Schwartzman’s pencil-thin mustache paying homage to John Waters or this.) There is a large tank of poisonous snakes that is worth it. There’s talk of fascism and rebellion and the rich screwing over the have-nots, a constant worry about franchises that only seems more urgent right now. There are teens and tweens who meet particularly gruesome ends, reminding us that even during the young adult sci-fi boom of the last 15 years, this series has always been particularly brutal and merciless in imagining a world where the death of minors It also serves as a massive distraction. and the happiness of high-rated reality shows.
That is also a The Hunger Games Basic, of course, and this flawed but surprising prequel knows that even those who haven’t read the books will want that itch scratched. But in her dark heart, The Ballad of Songbooks and Serpents It’s really about the slow, methodical creation of a monster. This is another villain origin story, given the same treatment as Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, and many, many other recognizable big bads from pop culture touchstones of the past. Whether anyone was dying to know how Coriolanus Snow became the cruel tyrant of the Katniss era or not, this is what we have here, hidden among the Easter eggs and callbacks.
Fortunately, Blyth is smart enough not to lean into mustache-tweaking (that’s Schwartzman’s job, after all) or telegraphing the horrors to come. Like the film itself, the performance doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel in terms of how a good man turns bad. But both the actor and Ballad They seem to respect the fans and the franchise, not only in terms of investment but also in building things sideways rather than forward. And in this era of cheap profits and cinematic universes increasingly tied in Gordian knots, that’s the best you can hope for.
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