Courtesy of Variety

Suzanne Collins’ fourth book in the Hunger Games franchise, titled “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” finally made it to theaters Friday, Nov. 17. Being a huge fan of the series, I was excited to see if the new film lived up to the incredibly high expectations set by the previous four movies. 

The movie is a prequel of the original Hunger Games trilogy, telling the villain origin story of the infamous President Snow.

The opening of the movie brings the audience back to a memory of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) from the Dark Days, the first rebellion against the Capitol. Coriolanus and his cousin Tigris Snow (Hunter Schafer) are seen as young children running around in search of food amidst the threat of nearby bombs when they witness a man succumbing to cannibalism in order to survive. 

The movie then fasts forward to 18-year-old Coriolanus, who is making his best effort to keep up appearances as a student in the prestigious Capitol Academy, despite secretly living on scraps as the Snow family lost all of their riches in the war. 

Coriolanus and his fellow top classmates are challenged with mentoring a tribute in the 10th annual Hunger Games. Coriolanus is less than thrilled when he discovers he is paired with the runt of the litter: the girl from District 12. However, when the tribute, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) is revealed at the reaping, she establishes herself as a captivating performer, using a snake and a song to put on a show that causes quite the stir. 

Lucy is so intriguing to the viewer because she contrasts Katniss in so many ways, yet haunts Coriolanus in a similar fashion. She is made out to be mysterious and a natural born performer, unlike Katniss who calls herself “an open book” and has to force herself to learn how to perform for the games in the first film. However, both girls from District 12 challenge Coriolanus as something he cannot control. 

One of many great ballads from the movie is “Nothing You Can Take From Me,” which Lucy first sings at the reaping when her name is chosen indicating her imminent death. The lyrics, “Thinking you’ll change me / Maybe rearrange me / Think again, if that’s your goal,” work to depict Lucy and Coriolanus’ dynamic relationship: Coriolanus being taught all his life that chaos needs to be controlled and Lucy being the chaos that rebels against those trying to control her.  

There could not have been a better casting of songbird Lucy, as Zegler’s singing to folk tunes was just as enchanting as her character’s voice is made out to be in the books. Collins proved herself to be a fantastic lyricist when the book first came out and it was enjoyable to see the songs finally come to life onscreen. Zegler’s singing pulled on audience heartstrings, making them feel just as connected to her as the viewers of the games were connected to Lucy in the book. Zegler revealed on her Instagram that she decided to sing live throughout every take of filming, which makes the experience even more intimate between performer and listener. 

Despite the entire fanbase knowing where Coriolanus eventually ends up, Blyth’s incredible performance of Collin’s writing manages to keep readers rooting for Coriolanus to make the right decisions and end up happily ever after with Lucy. One question the movie leaves watchers wondering is if Lucy and Coriolanus really did love each other or if it was all a facade. In an interview with Fandago, Zegler states that the way she approached Lucy’s romantic feelings towards Coriolanus was by asking, “What percentage of her doubts what he’s saying to her on this given day?” but ultimately Lucy’s mystique leaves the viewer on the fence about her true feelings. 

A highlight that was enjoyed by every viewer in the theater is the comedic relief provided by weatherman, Hunger Games host and amateur magician Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman). A movie centered around children forced to fight to the death certainly could use a comical break every once in a while, and Schwartzman proved himself to be the perfect person for the job. Some of the more dedicated Hunger Games fans have appreciated the tributes to the previous movies, such as the inclusion of primrose flowers on Lucy’s corset and distinct bow after her performance that mimics that of Katniss’ from the skills assessment scene in the first Hunger Games movie.

One aspect that the movie seems lacking in, however, is sufficient transition from innocent Coriolanus to the unhinged villain he ultimately becomes. At the beginning of the movie, the viewer is able to see that Coriolanus still has love in his heart through the connection to his family, most specifically with Tigris. However, there seems to be less evidence capturing how Coriolanus ultimately develops into a snake, losing this sense of humanity. Reading the book may help to understand Coriolanus’ thoughts that aren’t very easily depicted on screen, especially since his character is known for his charisma and maintaining an unbothered demeanor no matter how stressful a situation. However, even in the book it seems likely that Collins’ intent was to leave some gaps in information that the reader or viewer must fill in themselves.

As the following events of “The Hunger Games” series tells us, Coriolanus eventually lands on top as President of Panem … but of course the story isn’t over until the mockingjay sings. When you do go to see how the movie unfolds, make sure to “enjoy the show!”

Rating: 8.5/10