On June 5th, a long awaited second part of adventures of Hiccup the Viking and his dragon companion, Toothless – “How to Train Your Dragon 2”, went onto cinema screens. DreamWorks Animation didn’t have luck for sequels recently – from rather average installments of Shrek, through almost unnoticeable now, despite strong marketing, Madagascar 2. They aren’t the only ones though. Did it raise to the challenge this time?
We visit Berk – the home island of Hiccup – five years after the original movie ended. The Vikings have incorporated dragons into their daily lives: now everybody has their own – there is even a “dragon lady” (an equivalent of contemporary “cat ladies”). Hiccup, earlier outcast and loner, is now a liked and respected member of the community. Astrid, the object of his love, returns his feelings. His father, Stoick the Vast – the village’s chief, sees him as his successor. Everything would seem that Hiccup should be happy – but he isn’t. He spends most of his time with his dragon friend, exploring and mapping the earlier unknown lands. He still struggles to find his place in the world. He will soon be forced to verify his idealistic approach to people and dragons upon meeting the ruthless Drago Bludvist and someone very close to his heart.
The plot isn’t anything new or inventive – mapping the world is an allegory for mapping ones life and trying to find ones place, and it’s rather easy to guess. The same goes for challenging ones alter ego: thesis and antithesis of characters – hero and antihero – who took different turns because of events in their lives. A comparison to the rather infamous Star Trek: Nemesis comes to mind – where both captain Jean-Luc Piccard and commander Data meet their “mirror images” – the full of darkness Praetor Shinzon (Piccard’s clone made by Romulans) and clumsy, “empty inside” android B-4 (before, Data’s prototype). The message is clear: it’s our aspirations and the will to achieve them what makes us who we really are and who we can become. The clash with harsh reality will mean that Hiccup must verify his ideals and enter adulthood, with Toothless’ support. This makes this movie completely different from its predecessor, which was a slightly naive, but conquering hearts of audiences in this way. There’s definitely more darkness in the movie – it has matured and the question it raises will reach more adult viewers.
Don’t be fooled though: the omnipresent and teasing humor will satisfy youngest viewers as well. Both the visual gags and dialogs are intelligent and very “contemporary”, and some scenes made me tear up a bit as well.
The movie is perfect visually: even though animated, Hiccup’s world seems to have its own life and vistas, even though made of bits and bytes, look realistic and appealing. This time DreamWorks Animation dodged the great sin of its previous movies – every its flag-bearing novelty is discreet and subtle, still showing how vast the advances in computer animations are. Also the audio leaves little to be desired: both the sound effects as sounds and roars of dragons make illusion of reality and natural feel of the movie’s world. In the end it’s music – John Powell returned to compose the soundtrack, and he doesn’t disappoint. Although nothing of the cult tracks like Forbidden Friendship (the background of plays of Hiccup and Toothless by the lake) or The Test Drive (the first flight together) from the first movie is to be found, the spirit of the forerunner is still present, but “revamped” towards expectations of the new audiences.
What makes me more disapproving is the plot development. This movie should be longer than 104 minutes. At least an hour longer. There’s not doubt about the movie creators’ decision though – being meant mainly for children forbids it being excessively long, however it left me with impression that the second half of the movie took the most sacrifice. The development, even though full of dynamic events, stays slow-paced for too long to reach momentum in the matter of minutes, to finally culminate at the far end of the movie, thus making the resolution a little of deux ex machina. Drago’s persona suffered as much. Even despite clearly outlined history and his motives, he lacks depth – he’s your generic, predictable black character, who can’t be negotiated or reasoned with. You can’t relate with him but most importantly you can’t find his soul. Drago is bad, because he’s bad – period.
SPOILERS AHEAD: Please don’t read the following paragraph if you haven’t watched trailers or read other reviews…
Valka, Hiccup’s mother, is probably the most controversial. Even though the creators took good care of her – we’ll learn of her past, grasp the beautiful feelings her and Stoick still have for each other (even though he’s been convinced she’d been killed by a dragon) and analogy between her and Hiccup, it’s the explanation for her 20-year absence what makes the most controversy: “too convenient” for the plot at least. It’s not without logic of course – there are cases of many activists that left everything behind for a greater cause, but for a mother to do that… it just doesn’t add up.
To sum things up: How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a very well made movie, but not without flaws. What makes it worthwhile are wonderful plot and visual/sound works. If you accept the story without thinking about it for too long, even the imperfections and inconsistencies that its creators left from time to time, will slip past attention and the movie will be truly entertaining. But for most, even though lacking “sweetness” of the original, it’s its worthy successor – and, I guess, that’s what everything is all about.