‘Hunger Games’ Prequel Divides Critics, Rachel Zegler Delivers “Powerhouse Performance”

in Entertainment, Movies & TV

Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird in 'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes'

Credit: Lionsgate

Ahead of her Disney debut in director Marc Webb’s Snow White (2025) reboot, lead actress Rachel Zegler is gearing up for the premiere of her latest outing, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023). The movie, which serves as a prequel to the Jennifer Lawrence-fronted Hunger Games quadrilogy, certainly has some high expectations to live up to. But according to early viewers, it doesn’t exactly land on its feet, signaling trouble for the franchise’s future.

Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth in 'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes'
Credit: Lionsgate

Related: “Pure Poision,” Rachel Zegler Attempts To Take Down Disney

Rachel Zegler has found herself in hot water recently, with her divisive remarks about Disney’s animated hit, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), painting the actress in an undeniably bad light. Now firmly placed at the center of nonstop internet discourse thanks to her “woke” take on the childhood classic, many have accused the Hollywood starlet of ruining her own career, with Zegler facing backlash for calling Snow White’s love story in the original film “weird” and saying that the Prince “literally stalks her.”

Since then, Zegler has faced even more criticism for an interview she gave during the now-resolved SAG-AFTRA strike in which she proclaimed, “If I’m going to stand there 18 hours in the dress of an iconic Disney princess, I deserve to be paid every hour that it is streamed online,” referring to her role in the live-action reboot of Snow White.

Rachel Zegler as Snow White in Disney's live-action version of Snow White
Credit: Disney

Related: Olivia Rodrigo Joins Rachel Zegler ‘Hunger Games’ Reboot, Confirmed

Many internet commentators were quick to call out the “privilege” and “entitlement” of her remarks, given that Zegler makes substantially more money from her high-profile film and TV projects than her fellow union members, and most nine-to-five workers, at that.

Still, Disney controversy aside, Zegler is set to star in another major franchise: The Hunger Games. Based on author Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes arrives in theaters this week and follows the forbidden love between a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) and his District 12 mentee, Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler), during the tenth iteration of the titular games.

Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird stares on in shock
Credit: Lionsgate

Directed by franchise veteran Francis Lawrence, who has helmed every Hunger Games movie so far, the prequel is set 64 years before the first novel — AKA, the story centered around Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson).

Check out the official trailer for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes below:

The upcoming Hunger Games prequel is a big deal for fans of the franchise, given that it’s the first film installment to arrive in theaters in over eight years. And with a stacked cast featuring the likes of Hunter Schafer, Peter Dinklage, Viola Davis, and Jason Schwartzman, it’s safe to say that hopes are high.

However, ahead of its release, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is already setting an undesirable new record for the franchise. Rotten Tomatoes recently unveiled the film’s critic score to be just 61% at the time of writing. With 71 reviews, this rating is likely to fluctuate, but at the moment, it’s officially the lowest-rated movie in the franchise.

Rachel Zegler as Lucy Baird bowing with her arms wide
Credit: Lionsgate

Based on early critics’ ratings, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes falls short of the 70% scores for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (2015) and well below The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), which landed a 90% Tomatometer rating, and its predecessor, The Hunger Games (2012), which scored a solid 84%.

While a 67% score isn’t disastrous by any means, indicating that reviews have been mostly favorable, it’s still far from suggesting that the prequel has been unanimously well-received. So, why are critics so divided over the Hunger Games prequel? 

Tom Blythe in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
Credit: Lionsgate

Despite earning a less-than-favorable reputation among Disney fans, Zegler seemingly delivers quite a powerhouse performance as Lucy. However, some have bashed the dynamic between Lucy and Coriolanus, with their chemistry not entirely present. IGN, for example, wrote that the prequel “doesn’t have enough time to depict the interplay of emotions and manipulations that make up Coriolanus and Lucy Gray’s relationship.”

Based on critics’ written reviews, a common sentiment is that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes could’ve used a bit more time in the editing room, with Variety echoing viewers’ remarks that the movie is “half an hour too long.” Others claimed that although the prequel is a “worthy return to Panem,” it fumbles its “rushed and somewhat frustrating ending,” with the Arizona Republic adding that it ultimately “misses too many notes to live up to its predecessor’s achievements.”

In contrast, Den of Geek praised its “refreshingly adult” take on the YA source material, while Film Stories praised Coriolanus’ “tantalizing” villain origin story, claiming that the movie “only improves on the films that came before it.”

Rachel Zegler in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
Credit: Lionsgate

At the end of the day, it’s important to note that these reviews are entirely subjective and that critics’ ratings frequently differ from those of regular audiences. Still, the juxtaposition of these two sentiments seems to point to problems in the movie’s script, pacing, and structure, which are crucial to telling a compelling narrative. If regular viewers pick up on these same issues, it could pose a significant threat to its box office performance and to the franchise as a whole if Lionsgate plans to expand it in the near future.

Only time will tell if the odds are in its favor when audiences get the chance to see The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in theaters on November 17, 2023.

Are you hesitant to see Rachel Zegler take the lead in the upcoming Hunger Games prequel? Are you planning on watching it in theaters? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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