The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents ends with a notice.
We watch as Coriolan Snow (Tom Blythe) takes a victory lap of sorts, having just arrived back at the Capitol from District 12. He secures a fancy new position as Gamemaker with Dr. Volumnia Gall (Viola Davis), poisons his nemesis Dean Casca Highbottom ( Peter Dinklage) and reclaims the family home. In the final moments of the film, he stares resolutely at a gleaming statue of the Capitol, as if already assessing the presidency of Panem.
With this one look, the message is clear: Snow may have landed on top, but in doing so, he has become the monster that will terrorize the areas for years to come. It’s a chilling reminder of what’s to come for Panem, and an effective end to Ballad of songbirds and snakes.
And then the movie goes and undermines all of that.
The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents Review: This Return to Panem Was Worth the Wait
As the screen fades to black, we hear a familiar voice speaking familiar words. Donald Sutherland, the original President Snow, returns with a voiceover saying, “The things we love most destroy us.” Cue a massive eye roll from me.
There are a few things wrong with this closing moment, the first being that this voiceover just isn’t necessary. Ballad of songbirds and snakes spends its entire runtime focused on the young President Snow, so why rush to shoehorn him into Sutherland’s version in the final seconds of the film? It’s the kind of behavior I’d expect to see in a trailer teasing who Snow would become, but not from the theatrical release itself. And guess what? That quote actually closes the film’s first trailer, making its inclusion here all the more redundant. (According to an Entertainment Weekly interview with director Francis Lawrence, the use of the quote in the trailer prompted him to use it in the film.)
Rachel Zegler and Tom Blythe in The Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents.
Credit: Murray Close
The voiceover seems like a desperate attempt to remind us of this Ballad of songbirds and snakes takes place in the same world as The Hunger Games, although it is impossible to think otherwise. Even if you forget the real Hunger Games and Capitol, we still follow whose characters Hunger Games the future we know as Coriolanus and his cousin Tigger (Hunter Shafer). We also learn the origins of several franchise staples, such as mockingjays and the “Hanging Tree” song. Of course, some of the references lean towards awkward fan service, like Lucy Gray Beard (Rachel Zeigler) explaining what the Katniss plant is. But even that can’t compare to being beaten over the head by a quote lifted directly from Mockingjay: Part I.
Scratch that, it’s not just the quote. This is the exact audio taken from a scene between Katniss and Snow. This audio feels wildly out of place in the context of the rest Ballad of songbirds and snakeswhich itself is aesthetically different from the other Hunger Games movies. Lawrence has created a retro-futuristic vision of Panem’s past that carries the seeds of what that world will become, but can also stand on its own if needed. Snow’s surprise voice breaks this up, forcing more connective tissue between everyone Hunger Games movies we just didn’t need. Think how unpleasant it would be if Suzanne Collins changed the last line of Ballad of songbirds and snakes from “Snow lands on top” to “Snow lands on top… until Katniss Everdeen comes to knock it down.” That’s basically what’s going on here, just in movie form.
Even thematic inclusion is clumsy. The quote, originally for Katniss and Peeta, is really about Coriolanus’ ill-fated love for Lucy Grey. He may believe that his love for her nearly destroyed him, dishonoring and banishing him after the Hunger Games. But in reality, his decision to turn on her and his friend Sejanus (Josh Andres Rivera) sends him down a darker path. He may not believe this path is a path of destruction considering it offers him more power, but the people of Panem will suffer as a result.
The thing is, we get a strong understanding of all of this from Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents” final moments — even without a voiceover! By the time Sutherland appears, there is a strong sense of dread as to what Snow’s future holds and what pain he will cause the nation. But as soon as we hear this quote, we are left with a sinking feeling that Ballad of songbirds and snakes it does not trust us to make connections between ourselves and the other Hunger Games movies. That, and we’ve been played for nostalgia.
Ballad of songbirds and snakes it’s in theaters now.