It’s a rare and fine thing to have a sequel that lives up to expectation and further than this leaves you with a feeling of actually wanting more films from the series. ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ is one such example that succeeds in being better than the 2010 first offering by daring to be bolder, bigger and deeper in Viking story to not only interest children but adults too.
mild spoilers may follow in this review
This movie directed by Dean Deblois deals with the village of Berk five years down the line, now all residents are accustomed to living with and riding dragons. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his Night Fury Toothless spend a lot of time together exploring more of the outlying lands more for the twenty year old Viking to avoid the demands of taking over as Chief. A new icy blasted place leads Hiccup to find his long lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) who helps him learn more about dragons and stop the evil threat of an unreasonable enemy called Drago (Djimon Hounsou) trying to control every dragon.
I realise the above isn’t a snappy profile of the plot but there’s a lot to include and what I’ve written doesn’t tell you the whole deal. That’s the mode with this film, it amps up the story to a higher degree and gives the audience more dragons, more characters and more action to look at and take in. It can at times possibly feel a slight too much, maybe a lot of stuff going on but it’s a cartoon adventure that revels in being brave and trying to take it up a notch or two. The additional story of Hiccup meeting and getting close to his mum is a lovely sight and it’s heartfelt to see her and his dad Stoick reconcile too. There’s a couple of moments in the screenplay by Dean DeBlois that flash back to expose the past of the Viking ways, more than anything it’s a tool of exposition to reveal more of the plot but it’s done in a good enough way and they’re both dark rewinds into history that make you forget it’s exposition. In general it’s an enjoyable story based on the trilogy by Cressida Cowell that this time crams more into the frame to truly leave the film bursting with character and event.
It’s a shame that the trailer spoils a lot of the story as going in without knowing the mum would return, without previously seeing the Alpha dragons and without witnessing the flight of a thousand dragons would have made the first time seeing these moments a lot more grand and exciting. Though the trailer doesn’t overly ruin the epic scale of seeing a multitude of colorful new dragons tearing through a fresh green world. So too with the Alphas who are both beastly and stunning. The only introduction that is slightly tainted is of Valka’s who most know of before she reveals her identity to Hiccup. The mother/son touch is a nice thing to see unfold though and this film doesn’t skirt around the issue of deep emotional elements, after all it’s Viking lore and danger was rife. The film deals with a tinge of sadness with a bold and deft touch letting the truth of it sink in. There’s a lot in this film to keep the heart racing but it does come down to story and family and bonds with dragon and human and this is where the true heart sits.
The main characters are well fleshed out even if not massively stepping out of their characteristics of the first film. There isn’t any big original factor aside from the new characters introduced. The supporting Vikings are so many that they feel squashed into the first running theme of family reunion and second theme of enemy threat. They do have their own personalities to be fair but they don’t seem to emerge confidently amongst the better dealt circle of Hiccup, Toothless, Valka, Astrid and Stoick. Toothless is a great dragon and the pairing of him and Hiccup through mental and physical likeness is a smart move to put them on level wavelengths and they do something to the sleek Night Fury to rack up tension and probably leave a few little children worried too.
It’s the first animation I’ve seen on an IMAX screen and it’s near phenomenal. The detailing to the characters and sceneries are just perfect. Dreamworks have raised the bar in features of their story and little shadows and growing movements on characters and landscapes are enough to make you realise how far animation has come along. It’s a fantastic feat of skill and one that made me feel that they’re on the way to bursting through competition and taking over Pixar as the leaders of fresh detailed animated films.
‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ is a surprising movie that doesn’t suffer from sequel-itis and delves into a rich and glorious tapestry of dragon filled worlds that comes with emotion, comedy, action and beauty. A deeper journey than the first but better for handling intimacy and adventure in superb equal measure.