WARNING: This review discusses crucial plot points including spoilers. If you haven’t yet seen the film read ahead at your own risk.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
I recently saw DreamWorks Animation's latest offering, How to Train Your Dragon 2. The heavily anticipated sequel to their 2010 hit How to Train Your Dragon. I must say it was refreshing to see a sequel that was content to simply add a “2” to the end of the first film’s title, instead of tacking on an often clichéd subtitle. (The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came close earlier in the year, however the subtitle “Rise of Electro” was added for its release in some markets, including Australia.)
This film takes place five years after the first installment, and when we first return to the island village of Berk it does feel as though time has passed. Things have changed. The Viking inhabitants now live in peace with dragons and have successfully integrated them into their daily lives. An exciting Dragon Race quickly and effectively established the new lifestyle without lingering in familiar territory for viewers of the franchise’s numerous short films or the TV series, DreamWorks Dragons. However, Berk’s idyllic way of life is threatened by a man from Stoick’s past named Drago Bludvist, who has been building an army of subservient dragons. While searching for a way to stop Drago’s plans Hiccup also encounters a figure from the past; his long-lost mother, Valka.
To begin with, the film’s visuals are vastly impressive. As usual Dreamworks surpasses the previous entry in the franchise by taking full advantage of the latest film-making technology. The environments are realised with rich, almost photo-realistic detail and the cinematography is treated with the same high level of consideration as a live-action film. Likewise each of the characters - in particular the teenagers - have been subtly redesigned to appear five years older than they did in the first film. This for me was a highlight as that level of realism is not always apparent in animated sequels. The titular dragons - much like in the first film - were cute for the most part. However, besides Toothless - who receives an impressive redesign as well as a few new-found abilities partway through the film - the reptile characters are not given a lot of depth or development.
One thing I did find confusing about the film was the seemingly inconstant moral message regarding dragon-kind. Throughout both films we are repeatedly told that dragons are not bad by nature, but instead are manipulated into doing wrong. However, in both films the true villain is revealed to be an enormous dragon (the Red Death in the first film, the Alpha in this one). It seems only really big dragons are truly evil. Similar inconsistencies are evident in other DreamWorks offerings, such as Alex the lion being persuaded to eat fish instead of his friend Marty - as evidently only land-dwelling animals matter - in the 2005 film Madagascar. I know these films are primarily aimed at children, but I do not feel that is sufficient excuse for such mixed messages.
There were also a couple of emotional plot points which for me felt unrealistic. When Hiccup discovers that his mother is in fact still alive he takes the news that she intentionally chose to stay away from him and his father surprisingly well. Any feelings of anger, betrayal or confusion seem practically non-existent. As someone who has experienced a parent choosing to stay away I felt the explanation given fell far short of being satisfactory.
On a similar note Hiccup seems to get over the sudden death of his father surprisingly quickly. He almost immediately forgives Toothless, Stoick’s - admittedly unwilling - murderer, and even gives his late father’s dragon Skullcrusher to recent bad guy-turned-good guy Eret barely an hour after Stoick’s death.
Again, I appreciate that this is a family film designed to be palatable for children. However, I see no reason why such films should not feature genuine emotional development. It is important that children are shown how to effectively deal with their feelings.
Finally, I find the character of Hiccup rather unlikable. After being proved right about dragons in the first film he seems to have become overly confident of his own inability to be wrong. Throughout this film he consistently ignores the wishes of others and shrugs off any sense of responsibility. When his plan to broker a peace with Drago completely fails I was relieved to see him begin to realise his own shortcomings. I world very much like to see his character develop further in the inevitable third film as he is forced to fill the void of leadership left by his late father.
While it does fall short in a few areas the film is not without its emotional depth. The development of Hiccup and Astrid’s budding relationship over the last five years is evident in the way the two interact, as well as Stoick affectionately referring to Astrid as his “future daughter in law”. Likewise the tragically brief reunion of husband and wife Stoick and Valka is truly touching and makes the former’s imminent demise all the more heartbreaking.
Overall How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an impressive follow up to the 2010 original. It is without doubt a visual masterpiece - further enhanced by seeing it in 3D - which will likely leave you looking forward to the franchise’s third installment due out in 2016.
The scene at the end of Into the Dalek where the Doctor rejects Journey’s request to travel in the TARDIS on the grounds of her being a soldier really frustrated me. Can we please loose the Doctor’s holier-than-thou attitude towards soldiers. I understand and even appreciate his strong moral pacifism, but the Doctor himself has been - and in many ways still is - a soldier. Just because you regret your own decisions/actions does not give you the right to take it out on those who remind you of it. Whilst the Doctor has met some terrible people in his travels who happened to be soldiers the simple fact that someone is a soldier does not mean they believe fighting/killing is in any way a good thing. More often than not soldiers are selflessly brave people willing to lay down their own lives so that other people (often people they themselves have never/will never meet) can have a chance at a better life. Yes in a perfect world/universe there would be no need for soldiers. But the reality is we don’t live in a perfect world. I sinisterly hope the newly introduced ex-soldier Danny Pink will show the Doctor that soldiers can be good people. I would just like to finish by saying that I really love Doctor Who. But just because you love something doesn’t mean agree with everything it says or does.
“The idea was to bring together a group of of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could.” ~ Nick Fury, The Avengers (2012)
I haven’t made anything like this before, and I just wanted to see if I could. Turns out, with a lot of effort and tears and caffeine, you can do anything. Took a week and I’m pleased with it. Hope you all enjoy it, too. Have a good evening.