The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler star in a scene from the movie “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.” (OSV News photo/Murray Close, Lionsgate)

NEW YORK (OSV News) – As its long title presages, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” (Lionsgate) offers the opportunity for an extended (two-and-a-half hour plus) return visit to Panem, the dystopian setting of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling series of young adult novels and the blockbuster movies developed from them.

As fans will already know, this fictional nation’s history was dominated by a disastrous civil war pitting the downtrodden inhabitants of 13 outlying districts against the affluent residents of Panem’s seat of power, the Capitol. Having prevailed in this conflict, the citizens of the Capitol established the fatal tournament of the title.

According to the rules of this annual gladiatorial contest, two children are selected from each district – one male, one female – and compelled to fight one another to the death until only a single survivor remains. Much dialogue in this iteration of the saga is devoted to the waxing or waning popularity of this competition as well as to the message it’s ultimately intended to send.

Although the mayhem in this prequel to the previous movies is kept free of gore, it still manages to be disturbing at times. So, while the film is probably acceptable for older teens, it’s safest for grown-ups.

In his fourth adaptation of Collins’ work, returning director Francis Lawrence chronicles the teen years of Coriolanus “Coryo” Snow (Tom Blyth), Panem’s future president. The result is a character study that’s more interesting morally than dramatically.

As the scion of a cash-strapped but elite family, Coryo aspires to become part of Panem’s establishment. Thus, as the action opens, he’s in the running for a prestigious scholarship.

It’s suddenly announced, however, that the qualifications for this prize have been changed and that they now include serving as a mentor for one of the participants in the Hunger Games. So Coryo finds himself assigned to train Lucy Gray, a feisty folk singer from a band of Roma-like wanderers.

Not only does this experience inspire him to recognize Lucy’s basic humanity, it’s not long before the two have fallen in love. Taken together with Coryo’s deepening friendship with his compassionate classmate Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera) – an outright opponent of the games – his bond with Lucy inclines Coryo to rebellion, though he remains torn.

Snow’s origin story provokes thought but mostly lacks emotional engagement. Still, the humane values upheld in screenwriters Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt script will be appreciated by those committed to biblical morality.

The film contains much bloodless but sometimes harsh violence, drug use and a couple of crass terms. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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