How to Drain Your Passion
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
How to Train Your Dragon is a film that doesn’t need a sequel. It’s a complete story and ties things off nicely. However, the first film was a huge hit, so money again wins over artistry. That’s not to say a sequel couldn’t work, it’s just unnecessary. I was on the fence until I saw this awesome teaser:
Just watch it. It sold me on everything. It captures the joy of the first film whilst promising new things like Hiccup’s wing suit and best of all, it gives fuck all away. So of course they ruined it by releasing a second trailer that gives away 90% of the entire film. Luckily, I managed to avoid seeing it after being forewarned, but damn. You’re making me not want to watch trailers, you film douchebags. That’s the opposite of what you want. Anyway, back to the review.
“You have the heart of a chief and the soul of a dragon.”
HTTYD 2 picks up five years after the original. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is now a 20 year old man, struggling to balance his duty to his village and his father with exploring the wider world with his trusty dragon pal Toothless. It soon transpires that an old enemy of Stoick’s (Gerard Butler) a villain named Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) is alive and hellbent on amassing a dragon army to take over the world. Things get more complicated for Hiccup when the mysterious dragon rider Valka (Cate Blanchett) shows up and kidnaps him. The basic story is decent enough to justify its own existence. In a genre where keeping the status quo when it comes to sequels is the norm, the decision to age the characters is a smart one. It gives the characters new purposes and ensures that the film isn’t just a retread of what’s come before, at least in theory. The cast are good, but additions like Jon Snuh actor Kit Harington and the aforementioned Cate Blanchett and Djimon Hounsou aren’t given particularly meaty roles to really shine. On that topic, fuck knows what is up with Blanchett’s accent in this. It veers from Scottish to European to an accent never before heard by human ears.
On the surface, everything is fine. Hiccup is still a good lead, the friendship between him and Toothless still charming and the flight sequences still great. It totally looks the part as well with beautiful, colourful vistas and fluid animation. However, I found myself really underwhelmed by it all. Look, I know I’m in the minority here as this thing has had crazy praise laid at its doorstep by critics, but when they’re saying it’s better than the original, it makes my head hurt. It’s a clusterfuck of ideas and scenarios, with the film feeling aimless at times, not sure how to stitch together scenes of Toothless being adorable. Despite having the leg up on who these characters were, I found them to be unengaging and at times, boring. One of the main reasons is how generic it all feels in comparison to the first. The main villain, Drago Bludvist, is a cookie cutter baddie with no real goal. In my little blurb above, I was trying to remember what his ultimate plan was and couldn’t- eventually settling for a vague “world domination” thing. He does get more interesting later on, but like Zod in Man of Steel, the revelation and backstory come way too late in the film and just before the climactic fight, a part where you specifically don’t want to sympathise with the bad guy because he’s about to get stomped by the hero. There are too many moments that just don’t ring true for it to be a minor problem. For all the lovely colours and dragon antics on screen, the kids sitting in the row in front of me seemed bored, with one of them resorting to punching his brother in the face with a popcorn box over his fist. They weren’t laughing much either. Food for thought. Also, that whole teaser sequence does appear in the film, but they’ve slapped some sugary pop song over the top, robbing the scene of most of its majesty. Fucking sigh.
It’s not bad by any standard. A lot of the film is quite good with some neat ideas played with. There’s one scene for instance where Hiccup, Stoick and the Vikings have to protect a dragon nest and its alpha dragon from attackers, the exact opposite of the climax of the first film. That’s a nice touch and there are several others like it scattered throughout the film. It’s just not enough. I felt disconnected from the film, like I was watching snatches of it through a neighbour’s window. Despite now being an adult, Hiccup’s motivation is pretty much the same as in the first one- change how people think about dragons and to become a responsible adult. He doesn’t want to be who his father wants him to be. Same exact skeleton of a conceit with different bells and whistles. The motivations for all the characters are fairly weak and ill-defined. As a result, don’t be surprised if you don’t care about anything happening on screen.
“C’mon, bud. There’s a whole other world of dragons out there!”
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a slide in quality. It still has clever ideas, wit and charm, but it’s harder to recognise them amongst the stilted storytelling and often painfully unambitious bits. The trailers for the god-awful looking genre stablemates Planes 2 and The Nut Job before the screening reaffirmed that the HTTYD franchise is still leagues above the pandering bullshit they’re clogging up multiplexes with, but judged by its own standards it’s a step back, not a stride forward. The worst thing is that I wanted to be caught up in it all and I was left on the sidelines. I’m legitimately disappointed. Still, there are plenty of worse ways to spend 90 minutes. Plenty of better ways too though *wink*. Seriously though- ladies, hit me up.