The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ is a perfectly average prequel

The film boasts boring performances, painfully obvious symbolism, and a paper-thin plot that fails to show why President Snow becomes the conniving dictator the districts feared.
Credit%3A+RawPixel.com
Credit: RawPixel.com

There were songbirds, there were snakes; we get it.

The much-awaited “Hunger Games” prequel premiered in theaters on Nov. 17 and proved to be a mundane narrative precursor to one of the most culturally impactful franchises of the 2010s.

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” hammers its visual motifs into the ground. Around every 20 minutes or so, the film reminds its viewers of how the main character is morally serpentine while its romantic lead periodically breaks into song.

Lucy Gray, the female tribute from District 12 and secondary lead of the film, is a singer whose last name is Baird, which literally means “one who sings ballads.” She is part of a nomadic group of musicians — whose culture is mentioned but immediately ignored — named the Covey, which is defined as “a small party or flock of birds.”

Despite its surface-level symbolism, the plot of “Songbirds and Snakes” is mildly enjoyable. Set 65 years before the original film, it tells the backstory of the original franchise’s main authoritarian villain, President Coriolanus Snow — played by English actor Tom Blyth.

Although he looked like a carbon copy of Eminem for the last third of the film — sporting a white tee shirt, dog tags, and a platinum blond buzz cut — he played the character well enough but didn’t impress me.

On the other hand, Rachel Zegler’s performance as Lucy Gray was flat and irritating at points. She sings perfectly well, but her false Appalachian accent and quirky line deliveries became grating by the film’s end.

There was never a moment where Lucy Gray captivated me the way Katniss did throughout the original films. No moments where she made tears prick my eyes, hopeful for this fictional revolution. She never even schemed against Snow, or at least not that we saw. She sings, and that’s about it.

In fact, there were barely any scenes with true emotional depth in the film at all. This deficit could be excused for a film about an evil dictator’s backstory, except that it never even really explained why he suddenly turned evil just minutes before the end credits.

The film showed how the people of this authoritarian country hate their oppressors (which we could have guessed) and then sort of shoehorned Snow in as a moderately intelligent guy who almost rebelled, but then just changed his mind without losing anything.

The supporting performances were entertaining, but also didn’t blow me away. Viola Davis’ role as the very first Head Gamemaker was well-played, but her “mad scientist” appearance was a bit overdone. Peter Dinklage’s role as Tyrion Lannister — sorry, as Casca Highbottom — was nearly identical to his performances in “Game of Thrones.”

In all, “Songbirds and Snakes” could have been a great character study that delves into the depraved mind of a tyrant, but instead follows a morally flippant lead who was neither scary nor sympathetic.

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About the Contributor
Parker Jones, Managing Editor
(she/her/hers)
Parker Jones is the Managing Editor at The Daily Iowan. She is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema with a minor in art. Previously, she was an arts editor, an arts reporter, and a digital producer for the DI.