Prequels are fickle things. While it seems, we are at the tail end of Hollywood’s sequel-itis, the studios are still trying to find ways to use their tried-and-true intellectual property to get the audience back. Prequels are an interesting way to do this, but often executed with middling results. The pattern that blockbuster prequels follow seems to be either de-aging or recasting the characters the audience has familiarity with and then find ways to show their origin while still finding ways to tie in easter eggs to the original story. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is the latest franchise to do just this, but with much better source material than most.


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is based on the novel of the same name and tells the story of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), a young man who will one day become the ruthless dictator of Panem, and his involvement in the 10th Hunger Games as a mentor.

The film begins with Coriolanus living a lower-class life with his sister (Hunter Schafer) and grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) preparing for the reaping ceremony, where 24 tributes from the 12 districts will be selected to fight to the death in the arena. Coriolanus is a student at the Academy, a prestigious school in the Capitol, and he hopes to win a scholarship to the University by impressing the Gamemakers with his mentoring skills.

However, he is disappointed when he is assigned to mentor the female tribute from District 12, the poorest and most backward district in Panem. His tribute, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), is a singer and a member of a traveling group called the Covey. She surprises Coriolanus with her charisma and talent, and he begins to develop feelings for her. He also faces challenges from his rival mentors, his family’s poverty, the twisted experiments of Dr. Gaul (Viola Davis), the head Gamemaker, and the Academy Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage).


The performances in this movie range from “meh” to absolutely brilliant. Tom Blyth as Snow wasn’t the right choice, with his line readings often sounding like surfer dude. British actors and actresses sometimes sound like they are Valley boys and girls when they do an American accent, and it was a bit distracting. There were scenes that he did well, but those scenes were compelling regardless of his performance.

Rachel Zegler, on the other hand, is an absolute revelation. Whatever they paid her, they need to pay her more. She exudes charisma and steals every scene she’s in. And while she sang well in West Side Story, that film did not showcase her pipes like this one did. It’s easy to make the comparison to her predecessor (or successor?), Jennifer Lawrence, and while they are very different, they both compel you to watch them.

Peter Dinklage and Viola Davis are also in a different league than most the cast here. They are as incredible as we expect them to be, particularly Davis’s turn as Dr. Gaul. She is a chameleon of an actor on the level of Meryl Streep.