Actually the very last thing anybody wanted was one other Starvation Video games film. We’ve already had 4 of them: sturdy diversifications of the younger grownup novel trilogy by Suzanne Collins, a dystopian phenomenon that addressed the rattled mood of a post-9/11 America terribly inured to battle. 4 might be sufficient, as many different drained franchises which have limped on effectively previous their primes have proven us.
Then once more, we’re as soon as once more (or, slightly, nonetheless are) dwelling in an period gripped by violent battle, by which information of some contemporary horror of mortal destruction arrives on daily basis alongside climate experiences and sports activities recaps. So possibly we now have not, in truth, developed previous The Starvation Video games. Enter, then, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, an adaptation of Collins’s Starvation Video games prequel, which travels again some 65 years on the timeline to inform a harrowing story from the early days of the titular video games—gladiatorial fight into which youngsters are conscripted—with a purpose to inform us one thing in regards to the current.
Directed by Francis Lawrence, who made three of the 4 unique Starvation Video games films, Songbirds might certainly just do that. There’s an terrible relevance to the movie, which seems to be on the mechanics of occupation and reprisal by way of a decidedly sinister, despairing lens. We all know that no hope shall be gleaned from the top of the movie—we’ve already seen what life shall be like for the beleaguered people of the work camp districts despotically managed by an omnipotent Capitol. And but, the grim conclusions of Songbirds are nonetheless a mighty jolt; the movie is, possibly, instructive in all its bleakness.
The hero of the movie, for those who can name him that, is Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), who later turns into the ruthless president of all of Panem, the America-like nation (maybe it’s a post-America) the place the Starvation Video games saga lays its scene. Songbirds is a prelude to villainy, and but is nonetheless profitable in making us care a couple of teenage Snow as he tries to climb the governmental ladder, hoping to rescue his household from penury. Songbirds is the uncommon clever, helpful prequel; its origin story (or, actually, tales) truly do higher elucidate what we’ve already seen.
The Starvation Video games, designed to punish district residents for a nasty revolt in opposition to the Capitol, are solely of their tenth yr, and are a decidedly extra raggedy affair than what we’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence scrape her manner by way of. The tributes, because the contestants are referred to as, usually are not feted and costumed as they are going to sometime be. They’re fairly actually handled like zoo animals, gawked and jeered at earlier than they’re unceremoniously dumped right into a shabby area stocked with rusty weapons and made to combat to the dying. Scores for the Video games are flagging, threatening their existence, a lot to the displeasure of their cracked overseer, Voluminia Gaul (Viola Davis). Issues start to alter when Coriolanus and his fellow college college students are tasked with mentoring the gamers, molding their photos and, in so doing, maybe creating celebrities. (Perhaps that is all a metaphor for Hollywood?)
Wouldn’t you recognize that Snow’s mentee is a ravishing younger girl about his age, Lucy Grey (Rachel Zegler), a touring singer who speaks in an Appalachian twang and has a folksy mettle completely overseas to Snow. They kind an immediate bond, and one suspects that the narrative of Songbirds shall be Snow realizing the humanity of all of the tributes by way of his dawning affection for Lucy Grey, thus rejecting the Capitol’s stern social order. However, once more, Snow is finally the unhealthy man, murderously dedicated to the Capitol. Songbirds as a substitute provides a tough sort of ethical journey, one with no comfortable ending ready on the opposite aspect.
Songbirds is a component motion film, half espionage thriller, instructed in three elements over the course of some two hours and forty minutes. These epic dimensions are earned by way of shrewd pacing and compelling performances. Zegler might not have a lot of a personality to play—she represents, for essentially the most half, righteous and tenacious Good—however she does loads with skinny characterization. Blyth keenly renders the push and pull of Snow’s warring allegiances, decency clashing so terribly in opposition to ambition. Davis is a scenery-chewing hoot as a mad scientist, whereas Jason Schwartzman is appropriately smarmy and vile as an ancestor of Stanley Tucci’s TV presenter character from the unique movies.
Francis Lawrence is adept at each harrowing motion and moments of pensive, fraught quiet. He persuasively establishes the emotional and political stakes of this world, which has all the time existed on the sting of absurdity. It proves surprisingly arduous to roll one’s eyes at Songbirds, so vivid are its hazard, its dread, its reflections of our personal world of brutal occupations and, primarily, youngster sacrifice. Songbirds is a dark sit, however it’s also assured leisure, a studio cash-in that justifies its making by way of considerate functions of tone and texture. It’s potential, the film suggests, to do one thing as cynical as a franchise prequel with care and perception, to additional increase on mental property in ways in which truly enrich the unique product. Maybe it’s a signal of our sorry instances that it comes as a welcome to aid to have our soylent served up so properly.