The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
Eight years after the conclusion of the popular Hunger Games series, audiences can once again be transported to the dystopian world of Panem. When it comes to prequels, the odds are not always in their favor. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (set 65 years before the original trilogy) faces the difficult task not only of telling a story to which audiences already know the outcome but also of featuring a character who has previously been established as a villain. Despite these challenges, the film somehow emerges from the arena as a victor. Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a prequel done right, a gripping story worthy of standing alongside the originals.
The allure of a Hunger Games prequel is that it explores the developments that ultimately lead to the familiar events of the original stories. Thankfully, unlike many prequels, it restrains itself from parading endless Easter eggs or callbacks. It contains a few, but the film manages to establish its own identity. If the original stories explored the challenge of surviving in a corrupt world, then Songbirds & Snakes attempts to expose the forces that corrupted it. Rather than making this prequel feel superfluous, the audience’s awareness of future events adds intrigue and potency to the unfolding tale.
The film succeeds due to the strength of the characters and the performers who play them. Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow (the future tyrannical president of Panem) and Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird (a Hunger Games tribute from District 12) are both excellent. The characterization of Snow gives audiences reasons to root for him without glossing over the evil lurking within.
Lucy Baird is an equally compelling character. Unlike Katniss, she doesn’t have archery skills or physical fortitude to aid and protect her. Instead, she relies on music (which plays a surprisingly large role in the film) and showmanship. She is outwardly confident but reveals glimpses of a softer vulnerability beneath the surface. As a result, she stands on her own as a captivating character and avoids becoming “just another Katniss.”
As expected, the movie is brutal, violent, and grim. The concept of tossing kids into a gladiator arena and watching them murder each other remains intentionally horrifying. Though the film restrains the violence to a PG-13 rating, it is visceral and unsettling. Yet it feels purposeful rather than gratuitous.
A weaker element of the film is its pacing. It faces the challenge of condensing its lengthy source material into a feasible runtime. The film is divided into three parts (with title cards appearing onscreen to mark the transitions). The first two parts cover the events in the Capital and the Hunger Games, while the third segment shifts to the Districts to tell a different type of story. The first two acts maintain constant tension and intrigue. When the story shifts gears for the third act, it loses some momentum. It eventually builds back up for a thrilling concluding sequence, but the stop/start pacing makes the ending feel uneven and a bit rushed.
The cinematic landscape is filled with countless prequels gone astray, forgettable stories that failed to live up to the high standard of the ones that came before them. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is an exception. Is it as engrossing and fresh as the Jennifer Lawrence-led originals? No. But neither does it feel like a corporate cash grab to milk a popular franchise for more money. Panem would be a miserable place to live; but for at least one more film, it’s a stimulating world to revisit.
Engage The Film
Is Human Nature Good or Evil?
The movie explores important questions about human nature. Do the Hunger Games (or society in general) turn people into selfish, violent killers? Or do they merely reveal the sinful human nature that already exists inside? The movie balances these two perspectives without ever resolving the tension.
The unhinged gamemaker (played by Viola Davis) advocates for the latter perspective, declaring that the arena showcases “humanity unmasked.” Coriolanus Snow experiences this violence firsthand. He is forced to enter the arena momentarily, which results in the vicious murder of a tribute. Although partially an act of self-defense, the experience leaves him feeling both horrified and intoxicated: “It felt like power.”
Lucy represents the other end of the spectrum. In a conversation with Snow, she expresses an optimistic belief that humans are fundamentally good. The lyrics to one of her songs captures this sentiment: “Everyone’s born as clean as a whistle/ As fresh as a daisy and not a bit crazy/ Staying that way is a hard row for hoeing/ As rough as a briar, like walking through fire.” As a result of the games and other characters’ actions, Lucy’s innocence is seemingly stripped away by corrupting external pressures.
The film doesn’t definitively land on an answer to this philosophical question, but it establishes that it is impossible to remain innocent and pure in a world filled with such selfishness and evil. Audiences may long to side with Lucy’s optimism, but Scripture teaches that Snow’s worldview hits closer to the truth. The apostle Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and Jesus says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Panem seems to be a world devoid of religion or spirituality, but the themes it explores has clear theological implications.