How to Train Your Dragon became an unexpected smash in 2010, in large part because it had such a unique look. The sequel, directed by Dean DeBlois (who co-directed the original with Chris Sanders), maintains the visual panache of the first movie, but it would have been as much fun to actually watch as it is to look at if the filmmakers had spent more time on the screenplay.
Jay Baruchel returns as the voice of the now 20-year-old Hiccup, who is resisting the efforts of his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) to get him to take over as leader of the Vikings who populate Berk, a place where dragons and humans peacefully coexist. When Hiccup discovers that the evil Drago (Djimon Hounsou) is amassing a dragon army in order to attack Berk, the idealistic young man attempts to find a diplomatic solution. Stoick insists that Drago is impossible to reason with, but that doesnít stop Hiccup from setting off on his mission.
Along the way, he encounters Valka (Cate Blanchett), his long-lost mother who left Berk when he was just a baby. She has spent the last 20 years creating a dragon sanctuary by using her natural ability to tame the fire-breathing beasts -- a skill that Hiccup has inherited. Stoick soon finds both of them, and the clan enjoys a tender reconciliation. However, their warm family time is cut short when Drago arrives with an alpha dragon under his control. Alpha dragons can impose their will on other beasts, and soon Hiccupís best mate and loyal dragon Toothless is attacking him, his family, and all of the other Vikings.
As with the first entry in the series, the visuals here are absolutely marvelous. Ace cinematographer Roger Deakins (working here as a consultant) helps deliver a darker palate than we expect from family-friendly animated films, and instead of looking muddy, the images have a Rembrandt-like quality to them -- even when the viewer is wearing 3D glasses.
The story for How to Train Your Dragon 2, on the other hand, poses a number of problems -- particularly a lack of momentum. Sequels shouldnít have to spend a great deal of time on backstory; we know the characters and their basic situation in life, so the plot should begin quickly. But thereís so much new material to cover regarding the histories of Drago and Valka that it feels like an hour passes before thereís anything at stake. As good as the visuals are, they canít hide the cracks in the filmís pacing.
However, since we saw this visual artistry the first time around, the most interesting thing about How to Train Your Dragon 2 is that it (perhaps unconsciously) echoes opinions voiced in the debate over gun rights. At one point, Valka tells Hiccup that a good dragon will do bad things if controlled by a bad person, which doesnít sound too far removed from ìdragons donít kill people, people kill people.î The climax of the movie underscores this when sheer firepower rather than diplomacy wins the day, and Hiccup tells us that Berk will survive because of their dragons. In this world, it seems that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a dragon is a good guy with a dragon. Regardless of your political stance, itís fascinating that such a hot-button topic would show up as subtext in a big-budget, family-friendly Hollywood film.
All of this will go over the heads of the kids in the audience, who have spent the last four years loving these characters and their adventures. The tykes who imagine themselves swishing through the clouds on a fire-breathing beast will be thrilled to have a new ride, and movie-loving parents will appreciate the artistry of the lighting schemes. Itís just a bummer that such a pretty package lacks any real substance.
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- Released: 2014
- Rating: PG
- Review: How to Train Your Dragon became an unexpected smash in 2010, in large part because it had such a unique look. The sequel, directed by Dean DeBlois (who co-directed the original with Chris Sanders), maintains the visual panache of the first movie, but it wo… (more)