By Ashlyn Thompson
Expectations were high for “The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay – Part 1,” and Director Francis Lawrence wastes no time getting straight to the point. The film opens with a shaken and highly-disturbed Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) shrouded in nightmares and huddled underground in a rehabilitation center. We quickly learn that not all is as it should be, and Katniss has lost not only her beloved Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), but perhaps her sanity as well. Thus begins the ultimate question of the film: what in the world has happened to Peeta Mellark?
The least theatric of the trilogy thus far, “Part 1” takes us underground, as our hesitant hero joins an already formed rebellion against both the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss plays the character we’ve all come to love, however begrudgingly. She continues her role as symbol of the revolt, led by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), President of the previously secret District 13. An excellent addition to the series, Moore ties together the severity of the situation in a relatable and almost amiable way.
We were disappointed to learn that most scenes take place underground, with little of the over-eccentric costuming and terrains that viewers have come to expect from the post-apocalyptic world writer Suzanne Collins has fashioned. We are left thirsting for the bizarre and curious quirks of the previous two films – fire bursting forth from ball gowns and feathers glued to eyeballs. Theatrics don’t pick up until perhaps the last half-hour.
The film was not completely without its spectacles, however. Scenes of deserted districts and daunting war zones offer moments of excitement. One highlight was a scene in which Katniss sings “Hanging Tree,” an idea which is mirrored more than once throughout the trilogy, for those paying attention. Lawrence does a spectacular job of overlaying the song with several of the districts’ individual rebellions, including multiple scenes where the already eeire song reflects Capitol-led mass-murders.
Sprinkled moments of humor led primarily by one of the film’s most fascinating characters, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), almost make up for where the rest of the film falls short. Wit is something which Katniss seems to have lost coming into “Part 1,” a facet of her character which we hope resurfaces by the end of the trilogy.
For those expecting romance, “Part 1” falls short yet again. There is little chemistry between Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) besides a stolen kiss and a few snarky comments, and would-be lover, Peeta, has been absent for the majority of the film. I won’t give too much away, but it is evident that Peeta is not the same as we left him. It’s here that we finally get a taste of the devastating urgency which has electrified the previous films.
To be fair, most films separated into halves are lacking not only in assembly but in overall story-telling; “Mockingjay – Part 1” is no different. Most of the film could have been summed up in a few brief scenes: Katniss cries; rebellion begins; Snow is (still) a jerk. We are left on yet another cliffhanger, sulking away from the theater with more questions than answers. I give the film three out of five stars. While lacking in the sweeping gusto of the previous two, it is still a fine film – a good watch for those of us not comparing to any precursors. But mostly, “Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” is simply an unfulfilling void left to be filled before “Part 2,” a lukewarm appetizer of what is to come with Lawrence’s next film.