Quite some time ago, 313 reviews ago in fact, I was quite pleasantly surprised by just how enjoyable Dreamwork’s How To Train Your Dragon was. I tend to give Dreamworks’ films a bit of cautious wide berth, mostly because a large amount of their output is tired or just plain terrible. Seriously, like, 90% of their film’s humour comes from people falling over or actors playing hyper versions of themselves. That’s pretty much all Madagascar is, for example. How To Train Your Dragon was different though. It had an honest to goodness actual story, with characters… and bloody dragons. If your film has dragons there’s a good chance I’ll like it. So, does how To Train Your Dragon 2 match up to the first? Click the link below for my review.
In How To Train Your Dragon 2, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) spends his time flying around the oceans with his dragon Toothless looking for new lands. New lands which he discovers but other people find quite easily seconds later. Anyway, upon finding a new land Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) come across a group of dragon hunters that are capturing dragons for a warmonger called Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou). He intends to capture all the dragons and when he finds out that Hiccup’s home of Berk has, like, loads of dragons, he’s probably gonna want them. Hiccup goes to negotiate with Drago, ends up hanging out with a spoiler filled dragon rider whilst the rest of the group end up getting captured by Drago. Then, not a whole lot happens.
Really, if I started describing any more of the plot I’d either be getting into spoilers or describing the film’s final act. The story in this film is very slight, it has to be said. The story is essentially about two elements of the past that shaped how the island of Berk was, along with Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerrard Butler), prior to the first film coming back to shake up the balance. In the first film it was just the existence of dragons that had caused all of Stoick’s pain and his closed minded nature. Now we learn of two key events which really shaped who he is. This means a large amount of the actual character focused narrative is on Stoick. Hiccup isn’t pushed to one side though. His father has asked him to take over the role of Chieftain and, as you’d expect, Hiccup doesn’t feel he’s ready for… or even if he’d want to be in a leadership role. There’s little else for the other characters to do. Astrid hasn’t got much in the way of a goal. The other riders are purely comic relief. New character Eret (Kit Harington) is pretty much there to help the dragon riders escape from Drago after turning on him… also the girl twin one has an unhealthy obsession with him.
So this film does suffer a little from being light on story and character, especially when compared to the first film. What is there is still leaps and bounds above what most of Dreamworks’ films have though. The first film was just so full of little character arcs and details though, along with a compelling coming of age story, that this feels a little emptier. This is also a coming of age story in many way, but it feels less earned. The rest of the film is pure spectacle though. Action sequences are largely well staged, although the finale is a little odd. Slight spoilers here… Essentially Drago attacks an island with a huge army and a giant alpha dragon, which fights another giant dragon for dominance. This leads to Drago getting control of all the dragons on the island so he can use them to go conquer Berk and the rest of the world. Except when he gets to Berk for the finale all the dragon just kinda fly around in the background, for the most part, and his army is nowhere to be seen. The point of that finale is more focused on breaking free of domineering control though. It just seems odd that there was so much focus on all these dragons when Drago only really used one giant one at the end.
One thing I really quite liked with this film was just how varied the characters were. There’s a real solid representation of different types of people in various roles. Plenty of non-damsel women, Hiccup is disabled now (he lost his leg in the first film) and there’s even a gay character. I am slightly bugged that the only character of colour is the villain, and that he’s described as being from “a distant land” like some sort of exotic creature. I would argue that the lack of any Black or Asian characters fits in thematically with the Viking based setting, but this is also a film about a world filled with dragons so arguing that Vikings were mostly white in real life is tantamount to arguing that dragons existed. Still, it’s not a major issue and I doubt I would have noticed it if I hadn’t picked up on how well the film represents varied people anyway.
The animation work here is of an extremely high standard. Way beyond what I’d normally expect. It’s not just in the details such as the hair, which was excellent in the first film anyway, but in the facial animation. These character models must have some of the most complex animation rigs ever used. Apparently a new process what used that allowed them to render out scenes instantly to be reviewed over rather than having to leave them rendering overnight, as most computer animation is handled. It must have paid off by allowing director Dean DeBlois’ team more time to keep upping the complexity. The characters have all been aged up a few years too so there’s no reuse of older models here. Everything is new. Ageing the characters also means that Hiccup now sounds his age, seeing as Jay Baruchel made no effort to sound younger in the first film. He certainly sounds more interested in the role this time, which was my one real criticism of the previous entry.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a pretty damn solid film, but I feel as if it falls a little short of the near classic that the first film was. The slight story and the heavy leaning on action in the film’s second half does the potential of the film a disservice. There’s a number of scenes that really add to the experience, although, as mentioned earlier, it would be spoilers to get into them. Some of the best parts of the film come from those spoilers though. The film isn’t bad at all really. It’s really quite decent. But that’s about it. Everything that is here is done very well, but there needed to be more and that finale needed to be better planned out. When the villain is out collecting dragons you can’t really have him attack one island full of dragons only to go attack another island full of dragons. You gotta mix it up a little more than that. Still, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a solid film and I’m certainly going to be watching the third film, whenever that comes out. It keeps getting delayed.
You know what’s not getting delayed? Avengers: Age of Ultron. Gonna be seeing that this coming Wednesday at midnight. Will have a review up as soon as I can after seeing it. So early morning GMT probably.