Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett
Genre: Animation/ Fantasy
Five years have passed since Hiccup (Baruchel) and Toothless managed to unite Vikings and dragons from being sworn enemies to co-existing together in harmony and forming a very close bond. Now older and more confident, Hiccup explores new pastures instead of staying in his village of Berk. However Hiccup and Toothless’ explorations bring new dangers when they come across Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), who is forming a dragon army that he can command to help him rule over everyone in the land. Now Hiccup, Toothless and the rest of the residents of Berk and their dragons face their biggest battle for both the survival of Berk and the future of the relationship between Viking and dragon.
While Pixar was producing many modern day classics, it seemed that DreamWorks were happy to churn out increasingly lame Shrek sequels or even lamer middle of the road efforts like Bee Movie or Shark Tale. Then, based on a series of books and not perhaps having the most spectacular title, How to Train your Dragon came along in 2010 and I, like I believe many people, were surprised by just how good it was. Having the perfect mixture of stunning visuals and a story that perfectly combined spectacle and heart, it is in my view one of the best animated films of the last ten years. Now the inevitable sequel and a true test to see if DreamWorks can avoid making another lame film that is just essentially the original rehashed with profit solely in mind. Well, I am not sure how close to any of the books the actual narrative is, but returning director and screenwriter Dean DeBlois and his team have thankfully managed to push the franchise forward to produce in my view one of the year’s best action/ adventure films that will please and thrill audience members of all ages.
Though the overall story may not be too dissimilar from the first film in some ways, DeBlois still makes things feel fresh, with the characters being visually and mentally older and the narrative risks he takes really coming off to produce some highly unexpected and sometimes very emotional developments. The main heart of the story is of course the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless and their characters have grown and matured as much as everything else, making their emotional relationship very involving and still with plenty of surprises.
Of course the film is not just not about Hiccub and Toothless and despite the abundance of characters in How to Train your Dragon 2 the supporting characters of the also visually older youngsters from the first film (voiced by the likes of Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and T.J. Miller) and their dragons get their own individual moments to shine. Likewise Gerard Butler’s chief Stoick certainly has some very emotional moments and Craig Ferguson’s Gobber provides excellent comic relief.
The new characters are all also welcome additions, with Cate Blanchett’s mysterious dragon rider Valka providing extra heart and intrigue to the narrative and Kit Harrington’s cheeky cockney dragon catcher Eret is also good fun. As the main antagonist, Djimon Hounsou’s Drago is the most underdeveloped, with a slightly clichéd and textbook ruthless take-over-the-world ambition, but that does not possess too much of a problem, as this is just a vehicle for the film to explore with true compassion its themes of coming-of-age, loyalty and companionship.
Though with a reported budget of $145 million one could certainly argue How to Train your Dragon 2 should look great, but even with that budget it still could have been lazy. However the visual detail is incredible, with the soaring camera work following the dragons flying over and through immaculately detailed landscapes feeling truly epic on the big screen. Likewise the climactic battle sequences, enhanced by a genuine sense of danger from the film’s well written narrative, are genuinely thrilling.
DreamWorks have thankfully not rested on their laurels and have created a sequel that takes what made the first film so great and developed that further. How to Train your Dragon 2 has an involving narrative with genuine heart, memorable characters, epic thrills and adventure in equal measure from start to finish. I just hope 2016’s trilogy closer maintains these very high standards.