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Film: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes 
Cast: Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Hunter Schafer, Jason Schwartzman, Peter Dinklage, Viola Davis, Josh Andrés Rivera, Fionnula Flanagan
Director: Francis Lawrence
Rating: 2.5/5
Runtime: 157 mins

This prequel takes us back 64 years showcasing a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) before he becomes the tyrannical president of Panem. In this he is a love-struck teen who breaks the rules to save Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) a District 12 Tribute, a member of the Covey, a community of itinerant musicians forcibly assigned to a district by the regime, and now a participant in the 10th annual Hunger Games. But we already know that Snow’s moral compass is wonky and the so-called gentle heart he displays here is not going to be sustainable, given that the Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) we know from four previous films, is the ruthless, evil overlord we’ve already come to hate. This comes as a belated extension of the hit saga, with blood sport, endangered young love, negative character development, and some political commentary fighting for evolutionary space.

Coriolanus, an impoverished student from a high society family, is compelled to mentor a Tribute through the training, promotion, and contest period. The game`s rule book empowers viewer sponsorship to determine the amount of survival provisions that can be sent via drones to the mentees. As viewership is waning, Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the overseer of the gladiatorial event has to devise new and torturous ways to imperil the Tributes in order to keep the interest going. The increasingly cruel torments unleashed on the games’ contestants fail to register though.

Based on Suzanne Collins`s YA novel penned in 2020 as a follow-up to the successful trilogy, this prequel doesn’t work up as much emotion or sentiment as the previous four hugely successful outings that top-lined Jennifer Lawrence in an unforgettable turn as Katniss Everdeen. Rachel Zegler, though suited to the role of an impoverished District 12 tribute, doesn’t have the charisma to take this series forward. While Lawrence was someone we all rooted for during the games, Zegler’s Lucy fails to evoke similar affection.

At 157 min, this prequel is rather bloated and feels disjointed.

Rachel Zegler looks hungry enough, and as Lucy, has the survival instincts to play safe but she doesn’t have the emotional compass to draw us into her plight.

Her moving folk songs and energising jigs lend some vitality to the narrative but the swinging back and forth of the focus from Lucy to Coriolanus and back makes it difficult for her to sustain her appeal.

The gruesome but stereotypical death-match arena action set in a dystopian world, watched by a live TV audience, fails in its all-too-obvious efforts to keep the thrills coming. Diversity may have been the aim for the choice of characters here but the scripting by Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt, fails to give these characters enough depth to make them seem worthy.  

Even Viola Davis’ imposing presence as the archvillain, the malevolent Doctor who cooks up torments to unleash on the game`s hapless contestants, is rather campy with costume, hairstyle, and makeup looking frightfully funny. Blyth, as Coriolanus manages to convince for the most part with steely resolve, but his betrayal of Lucy Gray feels contrived and is ineffectively orchestrated. Even the so-called romance between the two principal characters feels opportunistic. It’s clear that the pursuit of script mechanics above all else, fails to bring fruit.   

The film’s production design looks adequate, and the costumes and CGI manage to augment believability and mood. The film in its entirety is engaging enough but is also easily forgettable!



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