A worthy return to Berk, where the kids are all grown up now.
In 2010, How to Train Your Dragon surprised audiences with its incredible cinematography and emotionally resonant central relationship between a young nerdy Viking, Hiccup, and Toothless, the elusive and dangerous Night Fury dragon. Nearly 4.5 years later we are treated to the follow-up, How to Train Your Dragon 2 (the second installment of an intended trilogy), which thankfully has Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon) returning as director. DeBlois successfully incorporates the same sense of discovery, wonder, and emotional gravitas into the sequel that were so prevalent in the first film. How to Train Your Dragon 2 gets just about everything right — it expands the story’s universe without overreaching, lets the characters mature without forcing the issue, and keeps the focus on the powerful central storyline in a way that remains fun and engaging.
When we last left Hiccup, he was adjusting to his new utility prosthetic leg while the rest of the vikings on the Isle of Berk were adjusting to having dragons peacefully living amongst them, basically as pets. Roughly five years later (in real time and cinematic time), Hiccup and Toothless are off exploring the surrounding territories while Berk enjoys newfound entertainment activities with their new pets. Hiccup is facing the mounting pressure from his still-traditional father/chief, Stoic, to begin preparing himself to become the next chief of their community. It’s a position steeped in responsibilities and skills that Hiccup neither has nor desires. With the discovery of a new land filled with new species of dragons, a mysterious dragon rider, a crew of dragon trappers, and the threat of a powerful dragon-controlling presence, Hiccup must bridge the generational gap between himself, his peers, and his elders in order to secure a safe future for his people and his dragons.
As with the first movie, acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins lends a hand as a visual consultant. Whether he should get a substantial amount of the credit or not, the animation and camera movements, especially during the scenes of flight, are miraculous to behold. The How to Train Your Dragon series has delivered some of the best 3D visuals to date and this film is one of very few that I recommend be seen in the higher-priced format. The voice cast is also noteworthy, featuring a handful of B-list to A-list actors playing to their strengths. To credit the script, and Jay Baruchel (who voices Hiccup), the latter has tailored his nasal voice to be less obnoxious and sarcastic, something befitting the way his character has aged and developed with his experiences. America Ferrera lends a wonderful aiding presence to Astrid, though her character has been diminished a bit in this round. Joining the cast, which includes returning actors Gerard Butler (Stoic), Craig Ferguson (Gobber), Jonah Hill (Snotlout), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut), are newcomers Djimon Hounsou, Cate Blanchett, and Game of Thrones heartthrob Kit Harrington.
The strongest characteristic of HTTYD2 is its powerful story, one which fits cleanly into the series, even at the cost of potentially losing a few younger viewers. It advances the story in a logical manner without relying on superfluous subplots. The characters are older, and more mature, and so is the dialogue. Younger children who loved the first film may find it harder to sit through this more adult and slightly darker story. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem, however, because there are tons of new colorful dragons that we get to meet. This sequel also took its maturity level into consideration, since most of the serious dialogue scenes include adorable dragons playing with each other in the background. So, everyone wins. It even ends as a sequel should, by completing a self-contained chapter of a larger story while leaving us eager to learn what could come next.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 opens in theaters June 13, 2014.