Four years have passed since the release of How to Train Your Dragon. For the characters of the film, it’s been five years. Five years of dragon riding and innovations to improve their lives as they learn to co-exist with their scaly former foes. Five years of growth physically and emotionally. It’s not often that we get to see the physical effects of time passing, but the main characters of the film have aged. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his cohorts have gone through puberty and Stoick (Gerard Butler) has a few more lines on his face and gray in his hair and beard that weren’t there before. I just want to point out that I think that showing that animated characters have, in fact, aged from one film to its sequel is pretty sweet. Okay, let’s get to the review.
As I established in my preamble, things have changed a great deal for the vikings of Berk. Gobber (Craig Ferguson), blacksmith extraordinaire, is no longer making weapons to take down dragons. No, he and Hiccup have now set their tools to making saddles and other dragon-riding accessories. That is when Hiccup isn’t spending time with his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera), or riding off and exploring the world on his dragon, Toothless (Randy Thom). The world has gotten a whole lot larger and Hiccup is eager to see and map it all.
It is during one of his exploratory adventures that Hiccup and Astrid encounter Eret (Kit Harington), a dragon trapper in the service of Drago Bloodfist (Djimon Hounsou). Drago is intent on building a dragon army and intends to capture all of the dragons he can, including those on Berk.
Complicating matters is the addition of a dragon rider who is revealed to be Valka (Cate Blanchett), Hiccup’s long-lost mother. It’s not a spoiler to reveal information shown in all of the trailers, but at least she still gets a fantastic reveal. For the longest time, Hiccup felt like an outsider and meeting his mother finally shows him that he got his dragon love and empathy from somewhere. I think that’s a crucial thing for his character development.
You can kind of see where the movie is going from here as the dragon riders try to protect their friends from Drago and his greed. Many sequels fall into the trap of essentially trying to recapture the magic of the first film by telling the same story with the situation slightly flipped. This movie doesn’t do that. It tells a fresh story that tweaks some of the tropes audiences have come to expect from their animated fare.
For example, the first film had a fun slow-motion shot of Astrid confidently striding away from an explosion. It was meant to show the audiences that she was obviously the protagonist’s love interest. This movie also gives someone the slow-motion treatment. In this case, however, loving attention is paid to the rippling of Eret’s biceps as Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) gleefully ogles him. This loving attention is paid to his biceps not once, but twice.
Like its predecessor, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has some great tender and sweet moments interspersed with the comedy and sight gags. It has enough action to keep the kids entertained while having smart enough writing to keep older audiences engaged. Dreamworks has definitely done it again with another great movie in their animated arsenal.
Some people had been saying that this sequel, while great, isn’t as awesome as the film that came before it. Before I sat down to write this review, I was inclined to agree until I realized that it’s hard to compare the two. The first film was, at heart, a story about a boy who just wanted his father to see him for who he was and be proud of him anyway. The second film is about following that boy’s journey and seeing how he deals with the responsibilities that being the world-changing chief’s son have laid at his feet. Now that he’s gotten everything he wanted out of the first film, where does he go next? They’re different stories with different goals and saying that one is any better or worse than the other isn’t fair to either of them.
Dreamworks has been credited with creating some great female characters in the forms of Astrid, Ruffnut, and Valka. They’re all fierce warriors who aren’t totally defined by their relation to the males of the story. That said, it was still somewhat disappointing to see them sidelined to a certain extent during the final battle of the film. I understand that they’re secondary characters, but they’re also amazing and it would be great to see them used more effectively in the future.
Speaking of steps forward, Gobber, Hiccup’s friend and sometime mentor, has a great throw-away line where he alludes to the fact that he’s gay. Yes, it’s canonical. While I’m glad that the film treats this like no big deal, it’d be nice to see just a little more of that. Perhaps if there’s a third movie, they’ll push that a little farther. If anything, it’s always fun to see some segments of the population squirm as times change around them.
All commentary aside, I loved this movie and can’t wait to add it to my collection.