Friday, May 30, 2014

Review of How To Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup's Fiery Saga Continues

It's been five years since the weak son of a Viking chief changed his island by teaching people how to overcome their fear of dragons.
Now, he is looking for new challenges while trying to avoid another one. He also makes a major discovery and faces a dangerous enemy that will both change his life.

When How To Train Your Dragon came out in the winter of 2010, some wondered if an animated feature about a boy and his dragon would work. It did, in a big way, and now Dreamworks has made a very good sequel that may turn out to be a big hit this summer. It's already has a few sneak previews in the past week in Sacramento, and audiences have loved this movie and are likely to return when it officially opens next Friday.

When the story returns to the island of Berk, the locals aren't afraid of dragons burning their homes or stealing their sheep. They are enjoying a new sport called dragon-riding which may be more exciting that Quidditch. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), meanwhile, is busy flying with Toothless, and discovering what places are beyond his little island. He even has his own wing suit, which may have been a bit much for the movie.
Showing how his engineering skills improved his ability to ride Toothless, and changed Berk overall, would have been enough. What he's not eager to do is prepare to become the new leader after his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) retires.

The other characters haven't changed much. They're older, but still finding their way. Snoutlot (Jonah Hill) is still the brash hero in his own mind, Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) still has his "Magic The Gathering"-style of thinking, Ruffnut and Tuffnut (Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller) still fight. Astrid (America Ferrera) is still competitive, but also caring, and is destined to be Hiccup's wife and advisor. On the other hand, things have changed, symbolized by the fact that Stoick has his own dragon. That would have been unthinkable five years before. Then again, people who saw the spinoff show on the Cartoon Network are already aware of how these kids have grown. Here's a featurette to show just that...

Anyway, Hiccup and Astrid discover some dragon trappers led by Erit (Kit Harington, aka Jon Snow from Game of Thrones). They work for Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who wants to create his own dragon army and become more dangerous than that Red Death dragon that enslaved the other dragons on the first movie.

Hiccup thinks he can change Drago's mind, but Stoick says that can't be done. Years before, Drago tried to take over the island with his dragons. Hiccup also meets a mysterious Dragon Rider who flies better than he does. She is Valka (Cate Blanchett), who had been caring for dragons for years. She also has a very special connection to Hiccup, and this link will reveal exactly what it is.
Soon, there's a major showdown between Drago and Hiccup, with a result that changes everything. Consider it an "Empire Strikes Back" moment. Some may be puzzled about what happens afterwards, but just realize why it happened.

Dean DeBlois is back as director and writer for the sequel. He's hoping for a trilogy for Hiccup and Toothless, and the story certainly reflects that. In the first movie, Hiccup tried to show that people and dragons could live together through trust. The sequel breaks that trust, and upsets the balance, in an unexpected way. It's restored through another major change, especially in Toothless.

Of course, Gobbler (Craig Ferguson) is also back as comic relief. He also explains why he never got married, kind of. Some people may pick up on why. In the Sacramento showing, people laughed at the first part of his joke, but didn't quite hear the rest of it. Someone will, and that will lead to the usual reactions.
The animation style has also jumped in a big way compared to the first movie. The texture of the dragons' skins is more detailed, while their flying is smoother. Valka's refuge is also incredible, and not just because of the dragons.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a fine follow-up to the first movie, and sets up a lot of possibilities for the final part of the trilogy. It is certain to show Hiccup as the leader of Berk, eager to see what else exists in the world, and whether the dragons can still be part of it.

Finally, here's the first five minutes of the movie:

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