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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 by James Newton Howard (Review)

posted Dec 8, 2015, 3:23 PM by Koray Savas   [ updated Dec 8, 2015, 3:44 PM ]

The Hunger Games series has reached its conclusion with Mockingjay - Part 2. The film marks director Francis Lawrence and James Newton Howard's fifth collaboration together, following their successes with I Am Legend, Water For ElephantsCatching Fire and Mockingjay - Part 1. My experience with Howard's four scores is a shaky, yet ultimately positive journey through the composer's first fully fleshed out musical universe.

Harkening back on the previous scores, and more specifically with Part 1, I find that the success of Part 2 rests heavily on the melodies and tone that Howard established earlier. There are fewer standout moments this time around, but there is also a level of balance that gives the listening experience a greater sense of fulfillment. After all, these films and their music are a running continuation of overarching plots and characters. However, they still fail to truly deliver and hit that high mark of having everything fall into place for this finale. Perhaps the fundamental issue with The Hunger Games stems back to its uneven first entry, which created a domino effect following it to the end. Regardless, Mockingly - Part 2 succeeds in conveying the scale and symbolism of the narrative. Howard's use of longer-lined structures and passages (three cues surpass the 8-minute mark) add a lot to the score's overall development and weight. 

"Mandatory Experiment" is the action highlight of the album, featuring some of the most aggressive music from the entire series, though it mimics Part 1's "Air Raid Drill" rather closely. "Symbolic Hunger Games" is a small cue, but another of my favorites as it features rising strings and choir that burst into a dissonant climax. "Buttercup" sends us off into the final track by bringing everything back to where it started. Acoustic guitar and light strings flutter as the audience recalls the beginning of Katniss' journey in District 12. Then we move onto Howard's musical goodbye to the franchise, "There Are Worse Games To Play/Deep In The Meadow/The Hunger Games Suite." Everything that makes the Mockingjay installments worth remembering are featured here, from the themes and instrumentation to Jennifer Lawrence's hypnotic vocals. If there is one cue to take away from the whole franchise, it's this one.

In a perfect universe, The Last Airbender would have been James Newton Howard's first musical trilogy, but at its best, The Hunger Games is not far off from the lyrical brilliance and emotional depth his music is renowned for. Mockingjay, as a whole, features some of Howard's best writing in recent years, with Part 2 giving the films a beautiful closure worth revisiting.