Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
How to Train Your Dragon 2

Title: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Have The Vikings Discovered North America Yet? Hard to say. If so, pre-Christian Canada looked a lot like Naboo via Xanadu.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Captain Terrells from Wrath of Khan out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Young dragon rider gets more than he bargained for when he and his dragon push the outside of the envelope, like a Viking Chuck Yeager. Or Jonathan Living Seagull.

Tagline: "Training is over."

Better Tagline: "Here be dragons. Hell, there be dragons too."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Five years have passed since the Vikings of Berk reached their accord with the dragons (if you want to call it that; they're more or less beasts of burden), and now it's all about dragon races and turning swords into plowshares. That is, until Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless stumble upon a group of dragon trappers in the service of *cough* Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) who has sinister plans involving both the dragons of Berk and those in thrall to a mysterious new dragon rider.

"Critical" Analysis: I said at the time (you'll have to trust me on this, I never officially reviewed the original) that How to Train Your Dragon was the best animated movie of 2010. Toy Story 3 was perfectly adequate, stale characters and repetitive gags aside, but HTTYD, in addition to the great characters and fun coming of age story, was fantastic to look at.

It's easy to forget (though I'm not sure how) that animation should be a big part of your criteria for honoring that category. And even more than the first one, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is visually stunning. From mountaintops to cloudscapes to glaciers to the dragons themselves, DreamWorks Animation has outdone itself.

And just in time, too. I mean, Rise of the Guardians, The Croods, and Turbo didn't exactly set the world afire.

The scope of the sequel is understandably more expansive. After all, with dragons as well as longships at their disposal, the Vikings are no longer restricted to Berk and its environs, inevitably coming into contact with entities both fair and foul (Kit Harington milking that Game of Thrones momentum for all it's worth as the trapper Eret and the aforementioned *cough* Bludvist). And by appropriately aging up Hiccup and friends, writer/director Dean DeBlois (working off Cressida Cowell's novels) ups the ante for animation franchises, giving his young hero increasing responsibilities to go with his smattering of facial hair (it remains to be seen if the perennially adolescent sounding Baruchel will return) while divulging even more secrets about Toothless, and the Night Furies in general.

But more than that, and reflecting the advancing age of the protagonists, How to Train Your Dragon 2 shows more maturity than its predecessor, both in the relationship(!) between Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) and that between him and father, Viking Chief Stoick (Gerard Butler, speaking of people who need a hit). This occasionally works to the movie's disadvantage, as there are a couple of alarmingly lengthy expository stretches in the second act. I guess these are to make us forget we just saw a teenaged Viking create a working wingsuit some 1,000 years ahead of it's time.

There's actually a point about 90 minutes in (I checked), where things take a very dark turn, and I momentarily thought (and hoped) the movie was going to end on an incredible down note. DWA's Empire Strikes Back, if you will. This being the second of a planned trilogy of films, it would've been damned interesting, nationwide toddler riots be damned.

Of course that's not the case, and the threat of *cough* Drago Bludvist is dealt with in appropriately improbable fashion. For all that, How to Train Your Dragon 2 builds on the original like you'd hope, and is beautiful to behold.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is in theaters today. Now I want to play Civ II, but only if the Vikings get dragons.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar