How to Train Your Dragon 2

Posted by Joel Copling on June 13, 2014

Following up something as genuinely remarkable as 2010's "How to Train Your Dragon" (perhaps one of the great animated films of the century so far and certainly a highlight of the early part of the decade) is a feat in itself, so it is perhaps just as well that the inevitable sequel doesn't do that. It's mostly neither here nor there that the film is a lesser first sequel, but it should be noted so as to pinpoint the ways in which "How to Train Your Dragon 2" indeed falls short. For the first and second acts, at least, we are re-introduced to the Viking-inhabited world of Berk in an emotionally satisfying way. By the time the cogs of the fairly standard narrative catch up, however, director Dean DeBlois' screenplay shifts into autopilot.

Berk has enjoyed peace for the five years following the revelation that dragons aren't as menacing as their appearance, and Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), the formerly nebbish but now more physically fit son of Stoick the Vast (voice of Gerard Butler), is the top choice for chief of their Viking habitat. He lost a leg during the events of the first film's climax, a sudden disability that has sparked in him an indisputably manlier quality and a desire to discover what other dragon communities lie beyond the reaches of their boundary lines. He also enjoys the respect of his peers--among them, Snotlout (voice of Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (voice of Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut (voices of T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig)--and a solid romantic relationship with former rival Astrid (voice of America Ferrera).

Enter Valka, a mysterious dragon tamer voiced by a rather wonderful Cate Blanchett, who has a more personal past than just a narrow escape from a dragon attack nearly twenty years before. It's nothing to reveal that Valka is Hiccup's mother and Stoick's wife (The advertisements did just that), who was deemed lost to a particularly enormous dragon during one of the many attacks that Stoick, right-hand lieutenant-of-sorts Gobber (voice of Craig Ferguson), and their men unleashed upon their enemy. She's lived in the wilderness for the duration, and much of the heart within "How to Train Your Dragon 2" lies in the budding relationship between her and Hiccup. Blanchett is particularly affecting when she and Stoick are reunited (They sing a song with a nostalgic link to the both of them, and one can only smile at the reunion that is taking place).

Also enter Drago, a merciless but entirely uninteresting villain voiced by Djimon Hounsou, who wants to use the underlying hatred he has for dragons (Yes, they gave him both an injury and a horrifying childhood to survive, but these are entirely conventional concerns--trivial to a screenplay that refuses to dimensionalize him further) to create a dragon army using one of two alpha-male dragons (Valka oversees the other). This material is plodding and conventional enough--as is an arbitrary love interest for Ruffnut in the form of Eret (voice of Kit Harington)--to drag down a climax that does, admittedly, include the film's boldest and most emotional moment. All in all, though, it's a lack of conviction in the simplicity and heart of its predecessor that make "How to Train Your Dragon 2" an affecting but less effective sequel to a film that extraordinarily set itself apart.

Film Information

Featuring the voices of Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), Cate Blanchett (Valka), Gerard Butler (Stoick), America Ferrera (Astrid), Craig Ferguson (Gobber), Jonah Hill (Snotlout), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs), T.J. Miller (Tuffnut), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut), Djimon Hounsou (Drago), and Kit Harington (Eret).

Directed and written by Dean DeBlois, based on the "How to Train Your Dragon" book series by Cressida Cowell.

Rated PG (adventure action, mild rude humor).

102 minutes.

Released on June 13, 2014.