The world has gotten much bigger in five years. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has been busy, inventing new dragon riding equipment and exploring the world. Discovering new lands and new dragons. The rest of Berk has been busy integrating dragons into their everyday life. Stoick (Gerard Butler) has officially declared Hiccup the next chief. This of course causes Hiccup to run away and do what comforts him, fly. During a talk with Astrid (America Ferrera) at a brand new archipelago, they spot burning patch of land. They consequently come across a group of dragon trappers, led by Eret (Kit Harington) who informs them of the malevolent Drago (Djimon Hounsou) who has been forming an army of dragons. After a few conflicts with his father, Hiccup discovers another dragon rider. One that has created a sanctuary for dragons from Drago. This mysterious rider turns out to be Hiccups mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), who has been presumed dead for the past 20 or so years. In an inevitable turn of events, the residents of Berk ally with Valka’s dragons to repel Drago and his army.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great entry into Dreamworks pantheon. It has plenty of heart, humor, and action. Not to mention they aren’t afraid to add some real pain to the mix. In a world where franchises are seen as easy cash cows, it is refreshing to see genuine effort put into another franchise entry. Not to mention the great cast of characters surrounding the main protagonists. While they don’t add much beyond some light-hearted humor, they are a nice tension relief during some of the more tense moments of the film.
What this movie does the best, is expand upon the world that we were introduced in the first film. They have truly created a world that is exciting and enjoyable. Combining this whimsical world with improved visuals makes it all the more immersive. Really, my one regret about seeing this movie is not seeing it in 3-D. Not to mention the full on dragon war that occurs in the latter half of the film. The design of the fight and flight scenes is absolutely perfect. What is extremely interesting, however is this theme of dismemberment. You have the heroes, Hiccup and Toothless, both missing a small piece of themselves. What is important is that these injuries were essentially inflicted by each other. To clarify, these injuries were not directly inflicted on them by each other. However, these injuries were direct results from the others actions. Regardless, these injuries go on to bond them to each other and shape their character. This is put into contrast with the villains own dismemberment. It is revealed that early on, Drago lost his arm to a dragon. This turned him against the very idea that dragons could be anything more than mindless beasts. Instead of choosing to grow from the incident, he chose to conquer his fears through domination. Now this is all just my own musings since none of this is confirmed in the film. However, it fairly easy to see when you observe how differently Hiccup and Drago approach dragons. Hiccup always approaches new dragons with humility and calm. Drago on the other hand approaches with rage and domination tactics. Drago asserts himself over the dragons, demanding their obedience, while Hiccup earns their trust. Honestly, I could write a whole paper Dreamworks representation of trauma and how it shapes. That I will have to save for a rainy day.
Now, all this to say How to Train Your Dragon 2 didn’t have its problems. My main issue is how Dreamworks seems to rehash many of the same internal struggles. We get it, Hiccup and his father don’t see eye to eye on things. That was the last movie. I can understand Hiccups struggle of entering adulthood and accepting more responsibility, but not in the way the represented. Instead of focusing on that fear of growing up, they turned into more teenage angst about how his father doesn’t understand him. It was really the exact same issue only with a different setting. The peripheral characters were also very underwritten. Taking Astrid for example, she really has no part in the movie. Sure, she’s there but she offers very little substance to the film. This goes for the rest of his childhood friends as well. They do offer some excellent comedic timing but otherwise they seem over abundant and unnecessary. It would have been nice to at least one of these characters at least add some kind of side conflict or telling Hiccup to just get over himself and take on some responsibility.
Now, since this is the second installment in a possibly 4 movie franchise lets take a look at where the franchise could go. The best thing for Dreamworks to do, would be to show Hiccup struggling with his new duties as chief. This seems fairly obvious but the majority of his struggles should come from one of his friends resisting and even becoming an enemy. This could be difficult but not impossible. Plus, it would be a new and very interesting situation for Hiccup to deal with. Beyond that, since Dreamworks has exhausted the dragon army idea, they would need to go into non-physical territory. For instance, there is some new disease that is affecting both dragons and humans. Hiccup takes it upon himself to find the cure or the cause. Not only does this raise the stakes by putting his loved ones on the line, but it would naturally open up the world even more.
Wherever Dreamworks decides to take Hiccup and his friends, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an excellent addition to the series. It plays to Dreamworks strengths while still bringing in fresh and exciting story elements.
My Rating: 7/10