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A prequel for pre-sold fans

Like its title, “The Hunger Games: A Song of Songbirds and Snakes” takes its sweet time getting where it’s going. Seriously, I’d just go with songbirds or snakes. As it stands, it’s two-fifths of the way into “A Song of Songbirds, Snakes, Presidential Origin Stories, Katniss Everdeen Sloppy, and Pacing Issues.”

Working times are relative, of course. In a separate section, “Killers of the Flower Moon” an hour longer and twice as interesting. But “Songbirds and Snakes” takes its job SUPER seriously, much more seriously than just a fanciful thrill.

The “Hunger Games” prequel asks the question: How did future dystopian hellhole boss Coriolanus Snow (portrayed by Donald Sutherland in the previous “Hunger Games” movies) turn to the dark side of all the cool, misunderstood kids, from Darth Vader to Elphaba? Is Cruella de Vil hanging out? Pre-invested fans of the “Hunger Games” franchise interested in the young adulthood of rising politician Snow can get what they want here. However, Viola Davis’ game designer Dr. If it weren’t for her supporting turn as Volumnia Gaul, director Francis Lawrence’s return to Panem would be DOA. It’s not written that way, but in Davis’ hands, not to mention her character’s high-voltage electric hair, Gaul becomes the most sympathetic villain in all of Panem. Who could hate an authoritarian nutter with such furry, peachy readings?

“Songbirds and Snakes,” which is (inadvertently) faithfully adapted from Suzanne Collins’ 2020 novel, follows Katniss’s predecessor, Lucy Gray Baird, also from the region formerly known as Appalachia. Played and sung by Rachel Zegler (lately Maria). “West Side Story”). At the 10th annual Hunger Games killathon, Lucy Gray represents District 12, and as a musically trained graduate of the traveling troupe Covey, she has what it takes to become Panem’s newest reality TV star.

He rarely strays far from his bright guitar and microphone, and his lyrics, reminiscent of better days and the rebellion ahead, excite the crowd and frighten the leaders. Very little of this feels urgent or vital. While Zegler is doing his best, there are times when “Songbirds and Snakes” turns into a “Panem-ian Idol.”

On the other hand: When the games begin (Jason Schwartzman plays the greasy MC), the unlucky contestants are trapped in a bombed-out arena with little visual interest. I love the CRAZY, dangerous drones flying around, but other than that, the battles are plodding, piling up bodies and preparing for the next round, violent but bloodless.

Peter Dinklage "The Hunger Games: A Song of Songbirds and Snakes."

Eventually the narrative takes Lucy Gray and her mentor Snow to the safety and remote forests. Is this true love? Can Snow stay in touch with her more human instincts? We know this is no. Frankly, I don’t know if the “Hunger Games” era passed mysteriously or not. For the first time in 2014 The movie “The Hunger Games” worked very well, and Jennifer Lawrence weren’t the only selling points. The books sold like crazy, with Collins’s seductively brutal outline and YA’s deep-rooted interests catching on like wildfire with readers of all ages.

At its core, “Songbirds and Snakes” is the story of a must-watch pop culture phenomenon, the decline in ratings, and the measures taken to correct that decline. Peter Dinklage, the master of suggesting rot in a corrupt soul’s bargain with the devil, wanders around as Snow’s manipulator Casca Highbottom, wondering when and where it will all end. The film that revolves around it struggles to mobilize its central concern: the battle of wills waged between romantic paradises by Lucy Gray and “Coryo” Snow, the latter played by Tom Blyth; While it doesn’t exactly disappear itself, the thinness of the material doesn’t help that. Not to mention the repetitive nature of the action beats and even the lingering from line to line, moment to moment. Often characters refer to other characters by their full names; for example: “You seem like a good man, Coriolanus Snow.”

An alarmed objection? The objection continued. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a 157-minute clunky movie a 157-minute clunky movie.

“The Hunger Games: A Song of Songbirds and Snakes” — 2 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: PG-13 (for strong violent content and disturbing material)

Running time: 2:37

How to watch: Premieres in theaters November 16

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

excitement @phillipstribune



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