Written by: Jason
When the original How to Train Your Dragon released it was a pretty surprising success overall. Their last success was Kung Fu Panda 3 years prior with their films since then being minor successes at best. But then this one came out of nowhere with a lot of fun and a lot of heart and really captured the admiration of a movie goers young and old. Its 4 years later, with the series otherwise living its life as a TV show, but its now back to theaters and time to see if it can recapture the same magic the original did.
Goodness gracious great balls of fire, that’s how you do a sequel!
Set and released five years after the heart pulling original, How to Train Your Dragon 2 catches us up on life in Berk with a short voiceover and a glimpse into what our Viking friends have been doing for fun lately, now that their free time isn’t dominated by dragon slaying. In a wonderful exhibition of Dreamworks’ new rendering software, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) has been busy exploring with Toothless and mapping out the world around their island. He’s joined by Astrid (America Ferrera), his now fiancé, and her dog/chickenesque Stormfly as she talks to him about his father’s desire for Hiccup to succeed him a chief. So, you know, a lot has happened in five years. After spotting a plume of smoke in the distance, the two fly off where they encounter the film’s first villain, the dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harington), and are told about the horrible Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) and the mysterious dragon riding vigilante, which we all know is Hiccup’s mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), thanks to the trailer (way to spoil the big reveal Dreamworks).
Overall, the movie is gorgeous. A stunning amount of detail went into the small brush: every bit of armor is worn and scratched; every freckle and bit of stubble brings the character to life. The furs, the firs, everything in this world is immaculately textured. And the wide shots aren’t half bad either.
Speaking of visuals, let’s talk character design. Namely the show stealing Valka. There are loads of parallels between this Jane Goodall of dragons and her son, from the way she treats the dragons reminiscent of Hiccup in the first film, down to the design of her costume. But where Hiccup has been manufactured and polished, Valka is rough and feral. Getting to see the two of them connecting and growing together is so natural and heart warming, much like how Hiccup and Toothless bond in the first film. Valka is just an amazingly dynamic character, unlike our villain. If there’s anything I don’t like about this movie, it’s Drago and the handling of the trailer (more on that later). And not in “Oh, he’s such a good villain you just have to hate him” way. For me, Drago felt really flat. He’s villain who can’t be reasoned with, who kills when he doesn’t get his way, who wants to “free,” by which he means rule, the world. He doesn’t really come into play until halfway through the second act, and then he’s just “I’m gonna fight you over here!” then “Haha! Now I’m gonna fight you over here!” And while his character does show Hiccup that you can’t solve every problem the same way, it pales in comparison to the “Man overcoming Nature” type conflict in the original.
The only other thing I don’t like about the movie really wasn’t even the movie, just the how they handled the trailer. First of all, they do spoil the whole reveal of Valka being Hiccup’s mom. In the film, she’s introduced in this amazing and mysterious air scene. A masked figure, unspeaking, that beats Hiccup in his own element, the entire time pretending that she wasn’t unmasked in the trailer. If you’re going to put all that effort into making such a great scene, don’t make the reveal it leads up to the focus of your marketing campaign. Then there’s the way they handled Eret, a.k.a. Eret son of Eret as he so frequently boasts. In one of their TV spots, they framed Eret as one of the good guys. They titled him under “New Friends.” But in the first 10-15 minutes of the film he’s introduced as a villain, leading Drago’s dragon trappers. So since they showed labeled him a good guy in the commercial but present him as a bad guy in the beginning, every time he appears on screen is just spent wondering “So how’s he going to turn into a good guy?” Still, for a major feature animation sequel with a lot to live up to, it’s pretty amazing that this is all I have to complain about.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 does an outstanding job living up to its predecessor. The visuals are breathtaking, and the expert handling of the “hero” characters, new and old, makes up for its villain’s shortcomings.