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How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review: Toothless Strikes Back

By Agent Bedhead | Film | June 13, 2014 |

By Agent Bedhead | Film | June 13, 2014 |

A few of you commented in Dustin’s discussion of the economics of movie reviews that you were going to watch this movie no matter what this review said. Let’s do this anyway. Luckily for you, I loved this sequel.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a rare followup that not only lives up to the hype of the first movie but also manages, somehow, to surpass all expectations. Note: Don’t feel the need to watch DreamWorks Dragons series on Cartoon Network before viewing the second movie. The opening sequence will swiftly get you up to speed if you missed (or forgot what happened during) all of the events until now. The first film was a thrill-seeking ride about the Viking village Berk and how humans stopped hunting dragons and developed symbiotic relationships with these dangerous creatures. The sequel is just as captivating, except everything is king-sized instead of simply fun-sized. The animation is better. The first movie’s visuals were uneven after suffering from some production blips, but the sequel is visually flawless.

Second installments in children’s franchises usually follow the pattern of changing scenery. That happens a little bit here, but it’s not too jarring. In fact, the clever scriptwriters found a way to expand the HTTYD universe while still staying faithful to the franchise’s original intent. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless the Night Fury dragon are back. The first movie focused on their bond as human and pet dragon. Now they are all about exploring together and discovering new places with Hiccup’s ass-kicking galpal, Astrid (America Ferrera), and her dragon, Stormfly. The sequel shifts from the coming-of-age/buddy movie themes to an all-out action movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s a mindless popcorn cruncher of a flick. Just like the first film, this one emotionally resonates. Actually, this sequel is a bit more emotional and far more intense too. You may want to think twice about bringing your very young children to watch this movie. The instances of peril are greater, and there is one moment in particular involving an accident that I wouldn’t want a 5-year-old child to watch.

This sequel jumps half a decade ahead from the film’s previous events. HTTYD 2 weaves a complex tapestry of delicious visuals with a nuanced examination of the relationships between man and beast. The first movie proved (obviously) that dragons can be trained. The DreamWorks Dragons tv series dealt with the integration of dragons into Berk society. In the sequel, Berk’s citizens now ride their dragons with great pleasure and co-exist peacefully with their fire-breathing pets, but we soon learn that not all dragons are so lucky. We follow Hiccup’s discovery of other lands, which also have dragons and may or may not use them for good. Okay, yeah. This movie is mostly about how a ruler in another land treats his dragons. Hint: It’s not very nice.

The movie also deals largely in family dynamics. Hiccup has some daddy issues. He is direct in line to succeed his father, Chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler, whose Viking character still sounds like a Scottish version of Yosemite Sam). Our protagonist isn’t thrilled at the thought of all that responsibility. Hiccup also has a ton of mommy issues that come to the forefront in this movie. All of this drama helps Hiccup discover his true sense of self and his destiny by the end of the film.

During their travels, Hiccup and Toothless discover that a new breed of dragon, the ice-breathing Bewilderbeast, exists. This discovery is not without consequence. Hiccup must defeat the newly introduced Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a villainous villain if there ever was one. Providing some comic relief again are Hiccups old classmates: Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-lasse), and twins Tuffnut (T.J. Miller) and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig). The ending isn’t too convenient or tidy, but it’s also not completely happy.

Dean DeBlois is back in the director’s seat. He manages the incredible feat of balancing a handful of subplots that would never come together in the hands of a lesser helmer. Not only does he give his audience a sophisticated story, but the visuals are simply spectacular. Remember how good the first movie looked? This one is better. From the very opening scene, this movie will slay you. Each scene seems to top the next, and the most appealing visuals come from the realm of the benevolent Valka (Cate Blanchett), who lives with dragons in their natural habitat. Valka plays a large role in not only Hiccup’s development of self, but she helps defeat the bad guy too. She’s not a perfect character but acquits herself nicely of her own flaws.

As always, the main attraction here is the dragons. The humans are marvelous, well-developed creatures too, but this is a rare franchise that infuses its animals with truly believable and lifelike qualities instead of anthropomorphizing the poor creatures. Dragons. So many varieties of dragons.

Don’t miss this movie. It plays to most ages and all but the youngest children.

Bedhead lives in Tulsa. She can be found at Celebitchy.