Hunger Games prequel is spectacular, but spectacle is not enough

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.


(M) 157 minutes

One of the most striking features of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games novels is the inventiveness she employs in coming up with the names of her characters. They sound as if they’ve been plucked from Tacitus’s Annals of Imperial Rome and worked over by a tabloid headline writer with a taste for cheesy puns.

Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow and Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

The latest of the novels’ screen adaptations, the fifth in the series, is a prequel to the original, which means it’s being launched without the box-office pulling power of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen.

Its main character, Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), is an 18-year-old anti-hero — which is an understatement since he’s destined to become Katniss’s nemesis, the tyrannical president of Panem. And he already looks the part: intimidatingly tall with icy blue eyes, blonde curls and a patrician demeanour.

However, he’s been forced to adjust his sights and shelve his ambitions. Since the death of his father, General Crassus Snow (the Roman influence again), his family has fallen from favour with the administration. And Peter Dinklage’s Casca Highbottom, the Hunger Games’ initiator and a particular enemy, has assigned him to mentor Lucy Gray, the least promising candidate in the forthcoming contest.

Peter Dinklage as Casca Highbottom in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

Played by West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler, Lucy is the Tribute from Katniss’s poverty-stricken neighbourhood, District 12, but she’s a singer rather than an action woman and her prospects are looking grim until Coriolanus realises her showbiz instincts may prove just as useful as a talent for martial arts.

Theatricality is certainly embraced by the film’s chief villain, Dr Volumnia Gaul, played by Viola Davis with a two-tone Afro and one blue eye and one brown. She’s the Games’ head designer and her enthusiasm for the more fiendish aspects of the job have inspired her to set up a laboratory, where she breeds genetically engineered reptiles and other animals, some of which are about to be introduced into the Games’ arena for the first time.

The Games are as brutal as ever – and more claustrophobic. Just before they are to begin, the arena is bombed by the rebels and the contest is staged amid the rubble with broken cables and large slabs of concrete forming its topography. It’s a scene that throws up uncomfortable parallels with events now going on in the real world.

Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) and the film’s chief villain Dr Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis).

All up, the film is among the more laboured and contrived than the series. There’s not much wit in it. Jason Schwartzman as Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman, the Games’ preening host, a forebear of Anthony Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman, is responsible for what little there is. And he desperately needs a co-host to help him deliver the repartee.

In the planning stage, there was talk of splitting the book into two films, as was done with the book’s predecessor, Mockingjay, but the idea was rejected and the action plays out over a long 157 minutes with a third act that makes you feel as if you’ve been parachuted into a different film.

The final part is set in District 12 and its job is to explain how Coriolanus’s character undergoes such a radical change. He arrives in the district as Lucy’s tender suitor, ready to pledge himself to her forever. By the time we leave him, he’s well on his way to becoming Panem’s black-hearted demagogue. How does it happen? Not very convincingly. There’s a lot of bustling about, a certain amount of confusion and a ho-hum finish. It’s spectacular but this time, spectacle isn’t enough.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds and Snakes is released in cinemas on November 16.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

Most Viewed in Culture

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article