To prep for How To Train Your Dragon 3 we’re taking a look at the previous entries in the series. Today Eric takes a look at the second film in the series.
To preface quickly, I like Dreamworks, but their sequels are pretty hit or miss – as are their movies in general. You have titles ranging from The Prince of Egypt and Shrek, to Home and Flushed Away. Was How to Train Your Dragon 2 going to be the next Shrek 2 or fall flat like Shrek 3?
The animation, once again, is absolutely breathtaking. The establishing scene with Hiccup and Toothless is particularly stunning right off the bat. The clouds have a look and feel to them that I’m not sure can even be replicated in real life, but feel the way they should feel. Of course, with as much as your characters are going to be living in that environment it’s extremely beneficial that the backdrop feels as natural as it does. Imagine how long the movies would feel if the sky the dragons are flying through didn’t look all too great.
Speaking of dragons, the additions of all the variations and the colors therein were such a breath of fresh air. Not only did it expand the world and our understanding of it, it did so with such fun personalities and colors. With Burke and the surrounding area being a pretty cold and gray place, each addition of color from dragons or characters just pops. This is not to say that the dragons from the previous films don’t have their place, as they grow with their viking counterparts.
The film felt stretched for time when it easily could have added more with no complaints. Even if they wanted to keep the runtime where it is, the parts with Ruffnut and Eret add nothing to the film and can be cut. It really drew away from other characters and plot lines that could have used it. The antagonist is some dude who said he had a way to control dragons, demanded everyone follow him, and then killed all but one person when they laughed him off…which makes no sense and is, I don’t know, weak? Why are people afraid of him if no one knows he killed them but Stoic? Did Stoic send letters out about it? In any case, who cares about this guy? He’s not a villain, he’s an idealistic obstacle with nothing built into him. Sadly, this is something that can be easily rectified by giving it a connection to Hiccup. Let’s just say that Drago Bloodfist is Hiccup’s uncle that was banished for being incredibly cruel in his dragon killings, to the point that he put others in harm’s way. It gives Bloodfist a reason to hate Stoic, Valka, and Hiccup. Conceptually, Bloodfist is the antithesis of what Hiccup stands for as he controls through fear rather than love and friendship. However, we never get a real reason to fear him or hate him until the climax. Now that Drago and Hiccup have faced off and tension has been created, I hope to see him in the third installment so they can continue to grow.
What made the first film so great for kids (and some adults) was that the antagonist was a mindset instead of a figure that represented an idea. Overcoming their preconceived notions and using their brains was what won the day. The challenge in this film is building upon that. They do a fair enough job, to their credit. Instead of challenging the status quo, they place a new mindset up against an idealism that refuses to change or hear you out. How do you respond to that as a child? Is it as strong a message as the first movie? No, but it adjusted the message enough for an audience that is again with them.
What this film does better than its predecessor is hit on the wonder that they create. The reveal of the dragon sanctuary blows up the world as we had come to know it and invites us to view new dragons in this strange and colorful way. Despite this, we see the pain that some of the inhabitants had to go through to get to that point, and why Valka had to stay there. A 2-for-1 that accomplishes establishing the beauty and human impact on it in a way that doesn’t beat you in the face.
The best scene in the film, by far, is Stoic reuniting with Valka. Here we have this stubborn, boisterous, loud character and you defy expectations by having him become quiet and overwhelmed. There was no loss of power in it either, which I feel is extremely important for young boys to see. The subtlety of Valka pulling away in shock at his gentleness and the acceptance of it was moving. A masterful lesson in subverting expectations in a good way…Rian Johnson take notes.
SPOILER TIME! (it’s called Poor Man’s Spoiler…what did you expect?)
The ending of this film leaves much to be desired. The villain literally lets the main character overcome his abilities through love and friendship directly in front of him. He says to Hiccup, “How are you doing that?” WHO CARES?!?!?! Stab him with the harpoon you are carrying and figure it out later you giant underbuilt moron! For a man who is built up to be this merciless killer of dragons and men, you sure do give Hiccup a ton of time to defeat you. It’s the equivalent of an evil king saying, “Go ahead and stab me, I’ll be fine,” and then dying when the hero stabs him with his hero blade. “WhAt CoUlD pOsSiBlY gO wRoNg?”
Also, when did Hiccup decide he was just going to accept his fate and be chief? When his dad dies, because that is never established. It was waaaaayyyy too obvious that Astrid would have made a better chief. Hiccup, knowing this and loving her, really should have asked if she’d like to step up to that role as she’s better with that kind of leadership. It allows her to fill that role and Hiccup to pursue his interests of learning more about dragons for their benefit. They work better as a team, but the writers don’t even write them into the best spots to realize that.
This film is slightly less good the the first one.
Check back with us tomorrow when Eric takes a look at the third and final installment in the How To Train Your Dragon franchise. And don’t forget to check out his review of the first film here.