EIGHT years have come and gone since the dystopian planes of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games last graced the big screen. Almost a decade since Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen finally hung up her bow and arrow.

Between 2012 and 2015, The Hunger Games films reaped almost $3bn at the global box office. One can only imagine the thrill at Lionsgate HQ when Collins announced plans for a fourth novel, a prequel, two years later.

Plans for a film adaptation of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes were already well in motion by the time the novel released. The film had a director, Francis Lawrence, before an RRP. By good fortune, the book was a hit. Fans loved it, critics too. Pre-production began before many had even reached the last page.

Set some 64 years prior to the events of Collins’ first novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows the early career of a young Coriolanus Snow. One day, Snow will become a tyrant, the cruel and manipulative President of Panem. Prepare to learn how a kinder and more romantic soul can turn so black.

Birmingham born Tom Blyth plays Snow, inheriting the role originated by Donald Sutherland. A relative newcomer, Blyth does well to hold his own against more seasoned performances from Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage, Wes Anderson stooge Jason Schwartzman and The Woman King’s Viola Davis.

The real star of Lawrence’s Ballad is, however, a glitteringly enigmatic Rachel Zegler. The West Side Story wonder plays Lucy Gray Baird, a musician chosen to represent District 12 at the 10th Hunger Games.

Young Snow is assigned as Lucy’s mentor for the coming Games. Much to his chagrin. Only, there is something about Lucy. Unexpected instincts and a fighting spirit. Matched with Snow’s natural flair for politics, there’s something more to this partnership. Something that may well place the odds ever in their favour.

Stretching to almost two hours and 40 minutes, the film is a hefty tome and does, occasionally, feel it. Certainly, this is not the fast paced thriller promised in the trailers.

By contrast, there really is some fabulous character work at play here and just enough intrigue to compel. A rushed finale does somewhat null the overall impact but fans of the franchise can rest assured that the Games’ legacy remains very much in tact as the credits roll.