Now that 11 years have passed since “The Hunger Games” first hit theaters, it’s inconceivable to spoil these movies anymore.
So, I can divulge to you with none shame in any respect that within the fifth film of the franchise, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” a bunch of teens kill a bunch of other teens.
Shocking, I do know.
Running time: 157 minutes. Rated PG-13 (strong violent content and disturbing material) In theaters Nov. 17.
But this time, to up the ante, the story does double duty as a Katniss-free prequel about how the villainous president of Panem, Coriolanus Snow, became so heartless.
Considering we go in already knowing that he turns into Donald Sutherland, that’s un-spoilable, too. The film is a road-to-evil journey like Disney’s “Cruella,” “Joker” and “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” only strewn with young-adult corpses, silly clothes and Roman names.
The difficulty is that by the tip of the over-two-and-a-half-hour movie, directed by Francis Lawrence, viewers still can’t quite put their fingers on why Coryo (Tom Blyth) picks the nasty path he ultimately does. Is it a basic lust for power? A lightbulb realization that survival is more necessary than morality? Who knows?
Rather a lot is shoved into a protracted and anti-climactic third act, but we’re left hungry for a meatier conclusion.
“Songbirds and Snakes” is ready in the course of the tenth annual Hunger Games — a televised battle to the death that pits 24 low class kids against one another in an arena — 64 years before the events of the primary film.
They’re lorded over by Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis, doing a fun mashup of Annalise Keating from “How To Get Away With Murder” and Ursula the Sea Witch) and Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage).
Coriolanus, whose family has fallen on hard times, is a high-achieving student on the Academy within the Capitol and desires to win a giant money prize at graduation to attend the University. To be able to secure the cash, dean Highbottom says Coryo must mentor a tribute within the Hunger Games all of the method to bloody victory.
That unwitting warrior is Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler) from District 12, Katniss Everdeen’s eventual home that appears like a West Virginian mining town. When she isn’t running away from knife-wielding killers, Lucy enjoys singing angsty protest songs.
At first Coryo wants Lucy to triumph so he can get his dough, but a romance blooms as he watches her from afar. Once the games are over, there’s still an hour left to go so he follows Lucy back to District 12.
What happens there is usually underwhelming after, ya know, watching 23 people violently die. Despite the lacking wrap-up, “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is, like many of the “Hunger Games” movies, a well-made dystopian yarn that’s higher acted than it must be.
Blyth, who’s that vampiric heartthrob type that’s very in-Vogue for the time being, manages to be each scheming and likable. We root for Coriolanus despite the fact that we shouldn’t.
And he creates a spark with Zegler, who finally gets to point out some edge she actually wasn’t capable of as Maria in “West Side Story” or within the godawful DC disaster, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods.” Yes the actress radiates musical-theater goodness, but Lucy has a touch of badass to her, too.
Don’t get too used to Zegler the rebel, though. She’ll soon play the title role in Disney’s “Snow White,” which, last time I checked, accommodates seven dwarves and nil brutal murders.