Friday, July 11, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon 2 was written and directed by Dean DeBlois. Not surprisingly, it's a sequel to the 2010 film How To Train Your Dragon.

The entire voice cast from the original film is back, including Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, Gerald Butler as Stoick the Vast, Craig Furguson as Gobber, America Ferrera as Astrid, Jonah Hill as Snotlout, Christopher Minzt-Plasse as Fishlegs, And T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig as Tuffnut and Ruffnut.

Joining the cast is Cate Blanchett as Valka, Kit Harrington as Eret and Djimon Hounsou as Drago.

I enjoyed the first film a lot more than I thought I would, and felt it was leaps and bounds ahead of most non-Pixar animated films. This one is just as good, if not better, and takes the story into darker territory, ala The Empire Strikes Back.


The Plot:
It's five years after the events of the first film, and Hiccup, now twenty years old, is being pressured by his father, Stoick the Vast, to become the new chieftain of Berk.

Hiccup and his dragon Toothless go exploring and are captured by a dragon rider who just happens to be his long lost mother Valka. She explains that she left Berk to start a dragon preserve and protect them from an insane warlord named Drago Bludvist.

Drago controls a huge dragon called a Bewilderbeast, that can psychically control all other dragons. He uses the Bewilderbeast to enslave Valka's dragons and to attack Berk. Stoick is accidentally killed by Toothless, who's under Drago's control.

It's then up to Hiccup and his friends to save Berk from Drago and his dragon army.

• The film series is very loosely based on the series of books by Cressida Cowell. There are twelve books in the series so far: 

How to Train Your Dragon
How To Be A Pirate
How To Speak Dragonese
How to Cheat A Dragon's Curse
How To Train Your Viking
How To Twist A Dragon's Tale
A Hero's Guide To Deadly Dragons
How To Ride A Dragon's Storm
How To Break A Dragon's Heart
How To Steal A Dragon's Sword
How To Seize A Dragon's Jewel
How To Betray A Dragon's Hero
The first film deviated quite a bit from the source material, and this one even more so. It's a direct continuation of the first movie and as far as I can tell has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the books. From the admittedly superficial reference I've done, a lot of the books seem to be concerned with pirates rather than vikings.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 does a very good job of expanding the story and the world of the first film, unlike most sequels that rehash what's gone before. Time has passed, the dragons have become more integrated in Berk, Hiccup is older and a bit more mature, and there are new lands and many more species of dragons. Well done!

That said, there's one big exception. In the first movie the Berkians had to go up against a monstrous, Godzilla-sized dragon. This time there are two gigantic dragons; one good and one bad. Stay tuned for the inevitable How To Train Your Dragon 3, in which we'll no doubt see a trio of skyscraper-sized dragons threatening Berk.

• In the first film, Hiccup has a line about "watching the setting suns," which sure sounds to me like Berk isn't on Earth, but in some vaguely defined fantasy realm. There were no further mentions of multiple suns in the film, and none in this one as well. 

So is Berk really on another planet, or are they sweeping that concept under the rug and hoping everyone forgets about it?

• Hiccup's flaming sword was new, and pretty darned cool. Almost like a light saber!

• The biggest reveal in the film concerns Hiccup finding his long-lost mother Valka. 

You know, Dreamworks, this might have been a more shocking revelation if you hadn't shown it in the goddamned trailer. Why would you do such a thing? Thank the maker that The Empire Strikes Back wasn't made today. If it was the trailer would no doubt loudly trumpet the fact that Darth Vader is Luke's dad.

• When Stoick is reunited Valka after all these years, they immediately begin arguing. Looking on, Gobber the blacksmith tells Hiccup, "This is why I never married. Well, that and one other reason." 

At first I thought maybe they were implying that Gobber was missing more than just a hand and a leg, but then I wondered: was that a gay joke? Actor Craig Ferguson confirms that the character is indeed homosexual. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

• Eret, Son Of Eret starts out as a villain working for Drago. In one of the quickest turnarounds in film history, he's captured by Hiccup's friends and immediately switches sides, becoming a good guy.

• I'm impressed that these films don't pull any punches and wimp out, like so many of the family films in our current ultra-safe "think of the children" society. Hiccup saves his village in the first film but gets his foot burned off in the process. Gobber the blacksmith is missing a hand and a leg from past run-ins with dragons. Stoick the Vast dies saving Hiccup. The Bewilderbeast kills Valka's alpha dragon.

There's death and dismemberment galore in these films, just like the original violent, unsanitized versions of classic fairy tales. 

Read The Wizard of Oz book sometime if you don't believe me, especially the chapter about the Tin Man. It'd make a Saw fan queasy.

• The movie's main villain is Drago Bludvist. He's got an awesome character design, but... he doesn't really do all that much. He pretty much stands around looking threatening and occasionally summons the Bewilderbeast. I was hoping for a big Luke vs. Vader battle between him and Hiccup, but it wasn't to be.

He also seemed pretty easy to defeat for someone who looked so menacing. His death scene was pretty vague as well-- he just sort of quietly slipped into the ocean with his dragon. We didn't see a body, which tells me he's going to be back in some capacity in Part 3. 

• Sadly the film isn't performing as well as expected, grossing less than the original and falling far behind its main competition, the execrable Transformers: Age Of Extinction.

I'm not sure why this is, as it's far superior to the Transformers "movie." Maybe it's because there's a Dragons TV series, and parents are reluctant to spend good money going to the theater when they can watch the same thing at home?

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a rare sequel that expands its world and doesn't rehash the original story (mostly). I give it a B+.

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