How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review
Directed by Dean DeBlois
Produced by Bonnie Arnold
Written by Dean DeBlois
Based on How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
Starring Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Djimon Hounsou, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Kit Harington, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig
Released: June 13, 2014
Runtime: 1 hr, 42 min
Rated PG-13 for adventure action and some mild rude humor
Without a doubt, How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best animated movies of the past several years. With its wonderful writing, beautiful animation, and battle sequences that verge on epic, it’s a dang near perfect movie. Now, about four years later, all of those characters are returning, and while How to Train Your Dragon 2 may not be quite on the same level of excellence as its predecessor, it’s still a great movie bolstered by the same writing, humor, and animation that made the first what it was.
The movie opens up five years after the events of the first, with the Viking city of Berk having fully brought the dragons they once feared into their lives as their friends, partners, and pets. Hiccup and Toothless are out charting the islands around them when they find a dragon catcher working for a man feared even by Hiccup’s father named Drago Bludvist, who wants nothing less than to take over the world with an army of dragons. Hiccup, Toothless and company set out to stop him, only to come across a person who none of them ever expected to find.
How to Train Your Dragon 2’s biggest strength is, by far, its characters. The people we came to know and love in the first movie are back and given more to do this time around so that they don’t get stale. What is probably my favorite scene in the movie is early on where it’s just Hiccup and Astrid talking to each other. The characters are charming enough to stand on their own with very little of the physical humor that usually dominates this kind of movie, and the scene works just like its supposed to; it gives us an idea of where these characters have come from since the first movie, and what kind of changes have happened in a relationship that was only started in the first. In addition to the old favorites, there are also a couple new characters that are standouts as well. Obviously, there’s Cate Blanchett playing Hiccup’s long-lost mother (I’m not gonna count that as a spoiler; it was all over the marketing campaign), and her performance is definitely one of the best the film has to offer, but another favorite of mine is Kit Harington as Eret the dragon catcher. The character itself is pretty one-note, but Harington gives him just the right amount of cockiness and jack@$$ery to make the character memorable and likable, even if his arc is a bit rushed.
Therein lies what is probably the biggest problem with How to Train Your Dragon 2: it feels incredibly rushed. No sooner is your butt in the seat than it feels like you’re at the climax of the movie. Plot points are rushed, character arcs are rushed, the climax is rushed; it just feels like the movie was more interested in getting from point A to point B than it was to fully developing its plot threads and characters like the first one did so beautifully. There were a couple moments where I actually had trouble believing that the script brushed over some of this stuff as fast as it did; it felt like scenes that could have had some real emotional weight were just glossed over in a way that was incredibly disappointing.
In addition, the villain and the climax are both pretty weak. The guy is menacing and all, but he lacks memorability and can’t help but feel like the bad guy that every sequel has to have to give it that darker feel. The first movie didn’t have much of an antagonist either, besides that Red Death, but that was because it was much more focused on the prejudice from the Vikings towards the dragons. Drago Bludvist is very much a “I am evil, hear me roar” kind of villain. Djimon Hounsou does his best, but Drago is still the weakest link in How to Train Your Dragon 2’s cast of characters. I mentioned before that the climax feels pretty rushed, and its mostly because it lacks the epic feel and scope of the final battle from the first movie. It plays secondhand to an earlier action scene that was much better done. Instead, the climax is over before it feels like its begun and is fueled by a deus ex machina that the first managed to avoid.
Now, I’m complaining a lot here, and that’s not really fair considering how much I actually enjoyed the movie. The animation is, of course, stellar; the flying scenes early in the movie are just as spine-tingling as they were in the first and immediately re immerse the viewer in the world of Berk. There’s also a great deal of hilarious comedy here, and the movie does a good job of balancing the more physical humor with the more character-based stuff that usually gets a bigger laugh (The love...uh...square, between Eret, Snotlout, Fishlegs, and Ruffnut provides the movie with a few of its better moments.) Kids will love the faces Toothless makes at the camera and how the dragons act like dogs and cats, and adults will love the interplay between characters (as well as the faces). It’s got a little something for everyone.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is nowhere near as good as the first How to Train Your Dragon. If we’re being generous, it might be in the same ballpark, but where the first one is hitting grand slams at every at bat, the second one is hitting singles and doubles with the occasional triple. That said, it’s more or less to be expected when you look at how excellent that first movie is, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 is still a great movie. Is it perfect? No; it has a weak villain, a weak climax, and feels rushed in places it should have spent a lot more time. Still, it brings back the characters we know and love, gives us at least one good action scene, and has more than its fair share of laughs. Throw in the superb animation and nearly unanimously memorable voice performances, and you get an awesome movie, and a terrific sequel.
(3 / 4 stars)
Various Stuff and Such: (Also known as the tangent/epilogue section)
-Remember to comment with your own thoughts on the movie and follow the blog if you enjoyed the review.
-The main competition in the Best Animated Picture Oscar category was supposed to come down to this and The LEGO Movie, and I’d be lying if I said that The LEGO Movie didn’t just take a gargantuan lead in my opinion. I never put up the review I wrote for that movie, but to sum it up, I gave it four out of four stars and finished it with “The LEGO Movie is the most imaginative movie since Toy Story, is hilarious from beginning to end, has a cast that is perfect all around, and has the same creative spirit that, after all these years, its titular toys still have the power to evoke.” Again, this movie is by no means bad, but The LEGO Movie could honestly go toe to toe with the first How to Train Your Dragon and give it a dang good fight.
-It wasn’t until the end credits were rolling that I realized it was Kit Harington doing the voice work for Eret (son of Eret). The guy does seriously good work with what little he’s given.
-If you haven’t seen the first How to Train Your Dragon, I would seriously recommend you pick it up. That’s another four star movie that is just a joy and a thrill to watch and rewatch again and again.
Wannabe Movie Critic