Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferreira, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Kirsten Wiig, Kit Harrington and Djimon Hounsou
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Date: June 27th
How to Train Your Dragon was one of those pleasant surprises: an intriguing and charming movie out of the somewhat sequel-clogged Dreamworks Animation studio. It hit that sweet spot for an animated movie where there’s enough winks and nudges for the adult audience, and soaring wow factor for the kids — and, let’s be honest, grown-up kids too. So all things considered, a sequel was a no-brainer. (Plus a TV series and threequel, but save that for another day.)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 jumps five years forward from the original; showing a world where humans and dragons live in harmonious co-existence — BBQs in summer, free central heating in winter, Quidditch games with sheep all the time. Hiccup (a difficult teen phase Jay Baruchel) has grown up some, yet still clashes with his dad Stoic (Gerard Butler as Leonidas after a binge on Leonidas) over becoming the chieftain of Berk, preferring instead to explore and map undiscovered areas while wearing a nifty steampunk wingsuit and wielding a firesaber. The re-emergence of a feared dragon hunter Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou killing villain time until Guardians of the Galaxy) and dragon freedom fighter Valka (a gravitas lending but underused Cate Blanchett) sends them all on a collision course with Berk.
Visually, HTYD2 might be a landmark in computer-animated movies; the employment of Roger Deakins as visual consultant adds a scope and clarity not seen yet in the computer generated medium. And with his background shooting a live Sigur Rós movie in Iceland, director Dean DeBlois sure as hell knows how to imagine icy, barren Nordic-inspired landscapes. It looks stunning but also becomes a primary focus, at times turning it into a Terence Malick children’s movie — full of glorious, soaring ice formations and flowing meadows but light on any real character development. It’s a problem, new characters are introduced with little background and emotional beats sputter smoke instead of breathing fire.
The comedy of first has been sacrificed in place of spectacle too, call it serious sequel syndrome. For a movie that boasts Baruchel, Kirsten Wiig and Jonah Hill, it struggles to elicits chuckles, with Wiig’s Ruffnut sharing the one solitary decent running gig with the bulging biceps of Kit Harrington’s Eret. It makes for a weird tone to it all. This is, after all, a kid’s movie; ship burials, amputations and family drama don’t really wash. And while the action and stakes are ramped up, the spectacle still comes up short — its lumbering Bewilderbeasts of the finale aren’t fit to light, let alone hold a candles to the original’s Red Death.
It all adds to a situation where the studio churn mars what was once unique and full of life. Is it bigger? Yes. Bolder? Perhaps. Blander? Certainly.