Director: Dean DeBlois
Writer: Dean DeBlois
Running Time: 102 Min.
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig
Plot: The thrilling second chapter of the epic "How to Train Your Dragon" trilogy brings back the fantastical world of Hiccup and Toothless five years later. While Astrid, Snoutlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island's new favorite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace.
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Official Website: Link
Review Excerpted From Scott Mendelson / Forbes:
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a textbook example of how to do a world-building sequel just right. It expands the world established in the first film, with new characters, new worlds to explore, and new mythological tidbits, but nonetheless concentrates on telling a complete story centered on its main characters. It reunites audiences with their favorite heroes but makes it very clear that these people have changed since the last film and will change by the time the credits roll. And most importantly, in terms of a successful sequel, it is a flat-out terrific motion picture. It is a visual dazzler and an emotional powerhouse, taking the established world in interesting new directions while remaining rooted in real character growth.
This sequel picks up five years after the first film, which means that the new status quo at that film’s conclusion has settled into what amounts to the “new normal” for the people (and dragons) of Berk. The young heroes of the first picture are now young adults, and it’s a bit of a shock to see an animated film featuring realistically aged protagonist, as most animated franchises tend to involve talking animals that don’t necessarily undergo physical transformations in between installments. After two eye-popping airborne prologues, which reintroduces our old friends and reaffirms the peace that Hiccup brought about by ending the human/dragon conflict, we get down to business.
The plot is pretty straight forward, eventually dealing with a long-forgotten tyrant (Drago Bludvist, voiced by Djimon Hounsou) who believes dragons are monsters meant to be enslaved and used as weapons against those he might oppress. He isn’t quite as complex an antagonist as those found in the Kung Fu Panda films, but his quest for power is merely a means to an end for Hiccup and friends to make other more interesting discoveries. Chief among those discoveries for the world of Berk is that there are many more dragons and dragon riders out there in the world. Chief among those discoveries for Hiccup is that there is a mysterious woman who has spent her life freeing captured dragons and caring for them in what amounts to a dragon sanctuary; a woman who is quickly revealed to his presumed-dead mother.
Cate Blanchett is unafraid to play this dragon caretaker as just a little unhinged, as befits someone who has cut themselves off from humanity for two decades, and it gives what could have been a standard family reunion a real edge. As Hiccup comes to terms with this revelation, he in turn realizes that he may share more in common with the mother he never knew than his proud and loving father. DreamWorks Animation sequels have all dealt with family revelations in one form or another. This one is no different. While Kung Fu Panda 2 for example dealt with Po coming to terms with being orphaned by violence, How to Train Your Dragon 2 deals with how much of Hiccup’s personality quirks and beliefs came from his parents versus those he might claim as his own. The story allows Hiccup to make mistakes and allows every character to have a relevant point-of-view about the conflicts at hand.
While the focus is squarely on Hiccup, this is the kind of sequel that establishes what a wonderful ensemble the filmmakers have developed over two films (and the television series, natch). Hiccup and Toothless are separated from rest of the cast for much of the second act, which allows the other characters, especially Astrid, to have their own moments in the sun. Astrid and Hiccup have a wonderfully relaxed chemistry, as the fact that they are now lovers is handled with minimal fuss (their most romantic moment involves Astrid doing a killer impression of her boyfriend’s agitated worrying). Like the also-superb Kung Fu Panda 2, this is a sequel that remembers that it is a sequel, so in place of comic antagonism is mutual respect and fondness among this core group of friends and family.
That makes the eventual escalation of conflict all the more powerful, and there is a second act story turn that is heartbreaking while remaining utterly logical. I wish the ramifications of said character/plot turn wasn’t somewhat tidied up by the end, but that’s the price to be paid for a film that leaves no hard loose ends for the third film. Nonetheless, the picture ends all of its major characters in a very different place from where they started, and I trust this film making team to pick at the emotional scabs two summers from now. Moreover, in terms of franchise building, this is a series that I can’t wait to see the next installment for not because I know what’s coming but rather because I have no idea what to expect.
To say that this DreamWorks Animation sequel is gloriously animated is almost to speak the obvious at this point (nobody uses 3D better than the House of Katzenberg), but this is perhaps a new high watermark for the twenty-year old company. There are glorious images involving countless different kinds of dragons. There are moments of incredible delight (the flying sequences are deliriously exciting) and genuine awe (there are some towering dragons in this one). The action sequences, big and small, are stunning in how they combine jaw-dropping beauty and complexity with narrative coherency. But the film remains rooted in character, unafraid to be patient and quiet in its storytelling.
Writer/director Dean DeBlois, with the aid of production designer Pierre-Olivier Vincent, has pulled off a real gem. This is a glorious adventure picture, a sterling sequel that expands the mythology while telling a mostly stand-alone tale that is unafraid to take real dramatic risks. It is an audio-visual wonderland, with wonderful vocals from all parties (Gerard Butler is terrific as the proud but not-entirely predictable patriarch), a fine score from John Powell, and a towering sense of visual wonderment. This is the kind of triumphant film making that ennobles so-called blockbusters. How to Train Your Dragon 2 isn’t just a great sequel, a great animated spectacle, or a great example of successful franchise-expansion/world-building. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is flat-out great film, period.
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