REVIEW: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: DEAN DEBLOIS / SCREENPLAY: DEAN DEBLOIS / STARRING: JAY BARUCHEL, CATE BLANCHETT, GERARD BUTLER, CRAIG FERGUSON, AMERICA FERRERA, JONAH HILL, CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE, T.J. MILLER, KRISTEN WIG, DJIMON HOUNSOU, KIT HARINGTON/ RELEASE DATE: JULY 4TH
Animated sequels never inspire overwhelming enthusiasm. Unless you have access to a wizard from Pixar, it’s normally a chance to squeeze money from exhausted parents who simply want a peaceful afternoon at the weekend. So why should How to Train Your Dragon 2 be worth your attention? And why is that little Viking kid from the first movie rocking some adolescent stubble?
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is, for lack of a better term, a proper sequel. This isn’t a replay of old comedic beats with a new baby dragon thrown into the mix as a cute sponge, everything here has been developed in a surprisingly organic way. Hiccup is now 20 years old, he’s comfortable with his popularity in the village of Berk, and after the events of the first film, his mind is yearning to search for whole new islands and dragons over sea.
What they find however is a group of dragon trappers led by Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) who possess an entirely different outlook on the relationship between man and his flying beast. Threatening the livelihood of those on Berk and a mysterious island where Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) resides with her dragons, the Vikings embark on an adventure which quickly forces Hiccup to grow up even faster as the scale of the danger escalates.
It’s remarkable how an edge of cynicism never hangs over How to Train Your Dragon 2. Everything has beautifully evolved and improved since the original, from the relationship between Hiccup and Astrid to the soaring musical score and the minutely detailed life-like animation. At times it’s a pleasure to observe some of the characters as they cavort in the background, especially Toothless and Valka’s dragon-companion Cloudjumper as they go about teasing and trying to win each other’s affection; with their facial expressions evoking more than any amount of dialogue ever could.
Even when the thrilling flying action sequences push the series towards borderline fantasy epic territory, the film shines brightest in its quieter and more subdued moments. The reunion between Hiccup’s father, Stoick and his long-estranged wife is one such heart-melter which carries some surprising emotional heft, showing a refreshing willingness from director and writer Dean DeBlois to tackle difficult themes head-on and not pander to the film’s younger audience members.
It’s witnessing this series grow with an exciting maturity which really marks How to Train Your Dragon 2 as a resounding success. It doesn’t quite pack the wholly well-rounded climax found in the first, but it’s a tantalising and promising leap forward for a series which still stands as one of the summer’s most sublime blockbuster rides. With the sequel nailed, we’ll just have to hope the final part of the trilogy in 2016 can whisk us away on the knockout flight the franchise deserves.
Expected rating: 8/10