The Hunger Games are back. With lots of music, the prequel “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” tells the story of Jennifer Lawrence’s dystopian film series.
Eleven years ago “The Hunger Games” was released in cinemas. The film that brought viewers to Panem, a nation where every year youngsters are chosen by lottery to fight to the death in a high-tech arena until only one or one is left standing. The bloody Big Brother TV show? A single massacre. The youngsters? Media stars.
The film was a mix of action and romance film. He brought the battle royale subgenre, in which a group of people always have to kill each other, into the mainstream. “The Hunger Games” also took a critical look at reality TV and dealt with media manipulation.
There were three sequels. The series grossed almost $3 billion. Jennifer Lawrence became a superstar as archery rebel Kantniss Everdeen from District 12. Now comes another part, which, like its predecessors, is based on a novel by Suzanne Collins. Francis Lawrence, who directed parts 2 to 4, is directing again.
Back to the Future
Many things will be familiar to fans in “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”: the deadly games, a courageous young woman from District 12, a crazy game master, an over-the-top presenter, plus a catchy folk song and a dose of media criticism. But other things are different.
The events take place over 60 years before Katniss Everdeen. The TV ratings of the games are falling. Nobody is interested in the young fighters who are transported to the capital in cattle cars and put in a monkey cage until the day of the fight.
The playmakers recognize one of the basic laws of reality TV: viewers will only get excited if they know and appreciate the “candidates”. So they want to spice up the bloody reality show – through mentors. These are intended to make the gladiators interesting to the audience despite themselves.
This job goes to students from the main elite school. Among them is Coriolanus Snow. Die-hard fans know: That was the white-haired old dictator in the previous films, played by veteran star Donald Sutherland.
How a villain becomes a villain
The young, ambitious Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) is assigned the singer Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler) and tries everything to make her the star of the games. Even with fraud, for which he will pay later.
Coriolanus’ big problem: He has a crush on Lucy Gray. This means that not only their popularity with the audience, but also their survival is important to them.
The hero is an ambivalent character with many contradictory feelings. You constantly ask yourself whether you like him or not. He makes the film interesting, which is otherwise solid blockbuster fare.
Too much music
Rachel Zegler causes an upset. Not because the 22-year-old plays badly, but because she sings all the time. She’s good at that – she had her breakthrough with Steven Spielberg’s version of “West Side Story” – but the frequency of the singing interrupts the narrative tremendously and almost turns “The Hunger Games” into a musical.
Well, the title could have warned you, but who could have guessed that there would be as much singing in a film about a brutal fight for survival as in a family-friendly Disney animated film.
Cinema release November 16th.
The cultural highlights of the week in the newsletter
Discover inspiration, stories and treasures from the world of culture: every Sunday, straight to your inbox. Subscribe to newsletter now.