Nearly eight years after the release of the last movie in the Hunger Games series, 2015’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, a new entry to the series approaches, this time in the form of a prequel, set 64 years before the events of the original series. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes tells the story of Coriolanus Snow, the future president of Panem, and how he became the tyrannical ruler we know from the original series, portrayed by Donald Sutherland.

In this, a young Snow, played by Tom Blyth, is tasked with mentoring Lucy Gray Baird, a tribute from District 12 portrayed by Rachel Zegler, in the tenth annual Hunger Games.

Songbirds & Snakes moves along at a steady enough pace to begin. We’re introduced to a truckload of characters in the initial moments of the film, with their connections and relationships hastily defined. It’s abundantly clear, however, that our focal points are meant to be Lucy and Snow. However, the first hour of the film elicits a “where’s the fire” feeling. The film rushes through so many of the moments leading up to the Games themselves, that it seems that Songbirds & Snakes may be destined for a swift runtime. Indeed, at about an hour and change into the film, the movie seems to be reaching its appropriate end.

And then the plot continues — past the point of logical conclusion — nearly an hour and a half longer than its welcome runtime. Songbirds & Snakes keeps going, lengthened by continual musical numbers, which often grind the plot to a halt as Zegler’s Baird often pulls out a guitar, or even performs a cappella.

Songbirds & Snakes is an adaptation of author Suzanne Collins’ prequel book of the same name, but the film seems to rush through the most interesting parts of its story, the tenth annual Hunger Games, to get to the least interesting parts. 

Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird and Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Photo Credit: Murray Close

The performances in The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes don’t keep the film afloat. Channeling an early 2010s teen drama on the CW network, Blyth and Zegler largely fail to draw a reaction from the audience. Lacking chemistry, when the Songbirds & Snakes has the excitement of the Hunger Games to rely on, their performances are passable. When the film transitions to a sappy teen romance, their flaws are more easily visible and the film begins to fall apart.

Hardcore Hunger Games fans, I suspect, will be thrilled with the inclusions here. Without having read the book, it can be assumed that this film covers all the bases from its source material. However, as a film, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes fails to create any investable characters or memorable moments in its 156-minute runtime.