How to Train Your Dragon 2
Review by Daniel Rester
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is that rare sequel that soars on its own terms. Writer-director Dean DeBlois manages to honor the original film while also separating the new film enough with its storytelling. He also allows Dragon 2 to feel free of “future sequel plans,” though one or two more Dragon movies are already in the works. If the other sequels feel like this, then bring them on.
Picking up five years after the conclusion of the first film, the story of Dragon 2 reintroduces us to Hiccup (wonderfully voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his pet dragon, Toothless. The two still reside in Berk, a village where Vikings and dragons now live at peace together. Hiccup, however, feels that there is still more out in the world and often ventures out to find new things.
One day while flying around, Hiccup and his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera), come across a band of dragon trappers. They work for a mysterious controller of dragons named Drago (Djimon Hounsou). Drago plans to build a mighty dragon army and use it maliciously. That means it is up to Hiccup and his friends to stop him.
The main plot of Dragon 2 sounds pretty basic, but I actually haven’t said much. The first great thing about the film is the surprising places it goes with its storytelling and character development. Hiccup, now a young man, must deal with his father’s wishes while also trying to find his own way – but in different ways than the original film. This also leads to things from his past and complications with his current relationships. DeBlois wraps this storytelling and its messages with plenty of heart, humor, and dramatic weight in way that is perfect for both kids and adults.
Surrounding Hiccup is a terrific group of supporting characters, all expertly voiced by a group of game actors. Among the supporting talent we have returning players like Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, Craig Ferguson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig. But then we also have newcomers like Hounsou, Kit Harington (playing a vibrant trapper named Eret), and Cate Blanchett (playing an important character who I won’t spoil). All of these people lend rich vocal performances to the characters, all of which are made interesting through DeBlois’ writing.
Dragon 2 is beautifully displayed at every turn. The animation and visual effects are rich in color and line detail. The scaling and movement are amazing as well, undoubtedly aided by visual consultant Roger Deakins — one of the best cinematographers working today. Simply put, DeBlois and his team have fashioned an animated world to get lost in in terms of visuals.
The sound design also matches the visual display at hand. From the clean vocal editing to the adventurous action noise layering, one could close their eyes and still be very impressed. John Powell compliments all of this with his unbelievable music score, one that is full of soul and comes with an epic quality.
Only a few things didn’t work for me in Dragon 2. A subplot involving romance between some of Hiccup’s friends and Eret feels a bit too childish at times and almost out of place. There is also a big plot hole in the middle that involves Drago that left me scratching my head. And finally some of the dialogue has a state-the-obvious feeling to it. But that’s about it in terms of complaints.
Dragon 2 is a treat for the whole family and one of the best films of the 2014 so far; it may just be the best animated sequel since Toy Story 3 (2010). With its excellent storytelling, fun characters, and outstanding visual and audio offerings, the movie provides an entertaining and exhilarating experience.
Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).
MPAA Rating: PG (for adventure action and some mild rude humor).
Runtime: 1 hour and 42 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: June 13th, 2014.