How to Train Your Dragon 2: Review The Dark Night Fury Dean DeBlois | June 13, 2014 Is How to Train Your Dragon 2, the perfect movie? No, it’s pacing is off and it would benefit from an additional fifteen minutes. Is Dragon 2 the perfect animated movie? An astounding yes! The film is gorgeously detailed, the soundtrack complements each scene, humor is interjected, characters display a wide breadth of emotion, the action sequences aren’t repetitive and the story is unflinching when dealing with mature themes. The sequel takes place five years after the original. Through a brief monologue, Hiccup sets the stage for newcomers to how the citizens of Berk live side by side with dragons. The entire village adopted Hiccup’s philosophies and the dragons are a part of their family, culture, work and sports. Hiccup and his best friend, Toothless, set off to chart unexplored islands and discover the unknown. The world is more connected than ever on the backs of dragons, and the riders discover new wonders, allies and enemies beyond the shores of Berk. What is a Critical Hit! It cannot be overstated that this is the most visually impressive animated movie I have ever seen (and that’s not a trick, I’ve seen a fair amount). Hiccup and team are obviously five years older, it’s not just a change of clothes and being slightly taller; they show their age in subtle chin stubble, scars, their stances and familiarly with dragons. The individual scales on Toothless and the hundreds of on-screen dragons can be made out in almost every scene. During aerial combat clouds part creating dynamic lighting and shadow, water droplets linger in the air and impressive fire blasts leave trails of ember in their wake. It’s not just the details which make this film spectacular but the varied dragon models and the sheer number of Vikings in a single shot. The original film dealt with Hiccup being a small statured Viking who didn’t fit in with the brutes of his village. The sequel continues the themes of self-discovery but is able to not backtrack on the positive ground character made in the first. Hiccup is obviously the leader of the riders, a respected member of the village and will be the next chief. He is not the only character who has developed; Astrid remains a capable warrior and leader but is no longer trying to prove her worth at every turn. Stoic doesn’t offer backhanded complements to his son and accepts dragons with open arms. It is refreshing to have a cast of characters continue growing instead of falling back on the tropes of their personalities from the original. The new additions to the cast come in the form of Valka, a mysterious rider who is a kindred spirit to Hiccup, Eret son of Eret, whose character arc demonstrates the most growth from any of the supporting cast, and Drego, the film’s antagonist who strikes fear in everyone and potentially small audience members. This story is very much centered on Hiccup and Toothless, whose buddy dynamic is the heart of the film, but each character has a moment or two to in the spotlight. The gruff Stoic has the most touching and emotional scene in the film which sheds new light on his personality and history. The aerial combat highlights the ferocity of the dragons and skill of the riders. There is a noticeable difference between watching Hiccup and Toothless fly through the air compared to Drego and his army or even Astrid and Stormfly. Each dragon has their own movements and abilities. Even when seeing Toothless streak through the air at top speed for the third, fourth or tenth time there is a unique feel to each scene that makes each sequence different than the one before it. This is the second act in a planned trilogy. It is fair to compare this film to The Dark Knight or Empire Strikes Back in tone and what the characters must overcome. This is still an animated movie filled with awe inspiring scenes and moments of levity but there are consequences to actions and sometimes the best of intentions don’t yield the intended results. Our heroes are fallible and suffer from hubris, but its watching them overcome these obstacles which make the experience enjoyable. What is Not Very Effective… Before the final confrontation there is a hard stop in momentum, so much so that I was worried it would end on a “to be continued…” Thankfully, it didn’t. There is a brisk pace for the rest of the film, sometimes too fast. There are quiet character moments and nods to greater emotions but the film could have benefited from exploring the impact of these sections in more detail. Drego is criticized by some for being a “Bwahaha” villain who wants to conquer the world. I respectfully disagree and view him more akin to Heath Ledger’s Joker. “Some men just want to see the world burn.” He is a force of nature with a terrifying presence and the necessary hints of back story to make him a compelling foe, which the heroes must overcome. Status Summary If you enjoyed the original, the sequel builds upon the characters, setting and mythology that captured your attention. If you didn’t like the first, then you are a crazy person who might still enjoy the sequel for its heavier subject matter. I can’t say that Dragon 2 is better than the first, but it isn’t any worse either; these films are set in the same world but tell two different stories. Dragon 2 is a textbook example of how to build upon the first act but not be burdened by its predecessor. If you prefer your movies to be live action, then this film is obviously not for you. If you enjoy cinematic adventures that balance action, humor, touching moments and isn’t afraid to reveal its heart then this is one amazing journey you must fly into. Score: 10 /10 + Stellar Voice Talent + Well Implemented Soundtrack + Character Growth + Story willing to take Risks + Vibrant World + Gripping Action Scenes + Flawless Sequel + Toothless is Adorable and Ferocious Level Up, Friends!