05/07/2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2

In 2010 DreamWorks' hit-starved animation studio was finally gifted with How To Train Your Dragon, a film that satisfied older audiences as well as the many young fans of Cressida Cowell's best-selling book series. The movie came close to Pixar at its best with a memorable score, top-notch animation and an instantly loveable lead character, and while most sequels usually reek of money-hungry desperation, How To Train Your Dragon 2 not only continues the story of Hiccup and his toothless friend but gives us a totally new one.

Five years after the first film, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has grown into a young adult with the broader jaw and pathetic attempt at facial hair all young men must endure before becoming a man. While he enjoys his new dragon-friendly home and the freedom his best friend has afforded him, his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) continues to pressure him to become the chief of Berk, a responsibility he's not ready for or interested in.

To escape his father and the looming job, he ventures into uncharted territory and soon discovers a half-destroyed ice fort along with a determined dragon trapper named Eret (Kit Harrington). Eret is under the impression that the people of Berk destroyed their home and is the reason they're under the control of Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a determined and all-round insane person with a vendetta against dragons.

While a bad guy disliking dragons for underdeveloped reasons is the main, duller strand of this story, HTTYD2 is about a boy becoming a man in the same way the predecessor was about a boy making a friend. Hiccup can't relate to his brawny and bearded dad and still feels overlooked and lost despite his actions transforming the Viking village he calls home. How lucky then that a figure from his past re-emerges that answers his lingering questions and gives him the confidence he needs to trust his convictions.

Self-discovery is all well and good, but what happened to the laughs? The way Toothless has turned into an attentive puppy who doesn't mix well with others is cute and charming, but apart from one adults-only line that enraged Christian groups across the pond and Cate Blanchett's shocking Irish/Scottish/foreign accent, there's very little humour here. Writer/director Dean DuBlois admirably lets his characters grow into adults along with the audience, yet the overall tone is a tad too serious for a film about animated dragons and Vikings.

Visually the film surpasses its predecessor easily, with cinematographer/visual consultant Roger Deakins going wild with POV shots, swooping pans and more than a few scenes so beautiful that focus on the dialogue easily strays. Likewise, the 3D earns its place and is a set of moving seats away from becoming a theme park simulator ride, even if it is a tad difficult to see who is who in battle sequences.

Feeling a bit longer than its 102 minute running time, HTTYD2 is still a great sequel with a richer story and improved animation. DuBlois said he wanted this film to be his Empire Strikes Back, and while that ambition is seen all over the screen it isn't quite the classic it wants to be. Still, there's enough here to have people coming back for the final part in the trilogy and to keep DreamWorks swimming in money until they can find another project half as interesting and entertaining as this.

(This review was originally published by Virgin Media movies)