How to Train Your Dragon 2 Movie Review
Bigger and even richer than the terrific 2010 hit animation, this sequel is also quite possibly the best action-adventure movie of the year. Not only are its big set-pieces thrillingly rendered with first-rate special effects, but the characters are complex and involving. And the script effortlessly combines jagged wit, youthful exuberance, heart-stopping romance and even some rather bleak emotions.
Five years have passed since Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) discovered his ability to interact with dragons, specifically his inseparable pal Toothless, bringing a new era of dragon-related fun to the small Viking island of Berk. But now his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) is talking about passing on the mantel of chief to Hiccup, and he's not sure he's ready for that. He'd much rather be out zooming over the ocean exploring uncharted lands. Then on one of his trips he encounters a group of dragon hunters led by Eret (Kit Harington), who is helping the notorious villain Drago (Djimon Hounsou) build an army. But this leads Hiccup to an even more startling discovery: his mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) turns out to be alive and running a secret sanctuary for dragons. Can they team up to stop Drago?
It's a rare film that manages to work equally well in the quiet moments as in the massive spectacle, but writer-director Dean DeBlois never wobbles at all. Without ever manipulating the audience, he seamlessly shifts from tear-inducing happiness to soaringly thrilling battle action to agonising emotional pain. The coming-of-age plot may feel familiar, but it's packed with fresh touches, hilarious observations and some surprising twists and turns along the way.
And for a film designed to look a bit cartoonish, it's eerily realistic thanks to ground-breaking animation that adds uncanny details to every scene. The 3D work pulls the audience into the story, especially in the goosebump-inducing airborne sequences. And the animators add small details as well, from the texture of skin and scales to the smallest mannerism. These characters are visually bursting with life and energy, and their personalities are even more vivid due to the lively vocal performances.
But beyond the technical achievement, this is a hugely resonant story of a young guy working out who he's going to be. Hiccup knows his father is a tough-guy leader, and now he discovers that his mother is a sensitive dragon-whisperer, but he needs to figure out who he is beyond who they want him to be. And this gives the film an unusually strong message about refusing to live up to expectations. Which of course a filmmaker working on a sequel knows something about.