by Andrew Moshos
dir: Dean DeBlois
It seems perhaps a tad inappropriate to keep calling these sequels How to Train Your Dragon etc, since, presumably, the dragons should be fully trained by now, yeah?
And if they’re not trained by now, they’re never going to be trained, face it. Some animals, and some people, just can’t be domesticated. Perhaps The Continuing Education of Flying Mythical Reptiles didn’t sit as well with the marketing executives at DreamWorks as a potential title.
But it has my vote for best alternative title. Well, maybe that or “Looky here! What’s that thing over there, proof that Creationists are right?” gets my vote.
I’m going to try to avoid hyperbolic language and such when talking about this flick or the original one, because it's tempting, and it's really easy. Thus I shouldn't give in. I will say that the first one was pretty amazing. This sequel is, for me, almost at least as good, if not an advancement in the story that belies its supposed sequel-dependent nature.
It is inevitable that successful flicks get sequels, even when it doesn't really make much sense to keep pushing forward with them. It generally always makes economic sense, hence the inevitability. I am more than happy about there being an extension of this story. For whatever reasons, the story of Vikings befriending dragons really clicked with me when it came out four years ago, and seeing the trailer for this second one thrilled the bejesus out of me.
The trailer was not a deceptive let-down at all, in fact it gave me enough of a sense of what was to come without giving it all away. I can't and won't say that the plot is anything dramatically different or radical, but it works well enough in the context of the story we might like to see with these characters.
Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, is the heart and soul of the film, along with his faithful dragon Toothless. Everything in the story is about him dealing with the expectations of his father, dealing with being disabled, and of being the default spokesman for humanity when it comes to human/dragon relations. As such, he is completely and utterly nothing like the Vikings we would expect or know about based on our own Earth history.
He is a stand-in, in some ways, and this isn't just because he sounds like the neurotic Jewish hipster who makes your coffee if you live in Brooklyn Heights, for modernity in the face of tradition. As such he's the most obvious audience substitute. Situations that would otherwise demand killing and bloodshed to be resolved the Viking way he strives to resolve the Hiccup way: with pleas towards understanding and connection.
If it's sounding like it's about communism or a bunch of people singing Kumbaya in some Viking dialect, well remember that there are like a million dragons in this, so it's mostly about dragon action. Dragon upon dragon, dragon upon human, human upon human, most of the possibilities are explored. In Hiccup's relentless and inventive drive towards understanding, he still, inevitably ends up in conflict with all the people around him, especially his father Stoick, who pretty much never listens to him.
Now, one concern that my daughter had was that a bunch of elements in this film were different from stuff that was established in the Cartoon Network series Dragons: Riders of Berk. It's the same characters and the same setting, but they've elected to ignore any developments on that show, much to my daughter's burning frustration. It made her bark fiery words of scorn at the screen such as "But Stoick doesn't ride that kind of dragon, he rides a Thunder Drum!" It's perhaps a shame, but it ultimately doesn't matter. No thought is given to continuity there because, hell, what does it matter anyway?
And developments develop of a sufficiently serious nature here that I don't think they're going to connect those series with the movies, which are striking off in a whole new and permanent-feeling direction. A few things happen in the flick which definitively change the status quo of the characters' universe.
Plus, Dragons! They are all exquisitely well animated, and the sheer delight I felt in watching these creatures in flight was just as strong in this sequel as it was what I beheld with wonder in the first flick. The action, when it comes, is stupendously well realised, and looks as great as anything I've ever seen at the cinemas.
If I have a complaint, and I can only really think of two, it's that it didn't really feel like an adventure and a story that the 'crew' solved, enjoyed or survived together. Perhaps because of watching the tv show, I expected that the moronic, obnoxious and piss-weak collection of 'kids' in Snotlout, Fishlegs, Astrid, Ruffnut and Tuffnut and their dragons would be with Hiccup at every step of the way. But really, it's all about his individual Luke Skywalker-like journey towards being the greatest inventor/chieftain/dragonrider/Jedi that he can be.
As such, the crew are mostly relegated to comic relief, and most of it isn’t that funny. A fair amount of sniffing, ogling and whining occurs when two characters keeping mooning over Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), but that’s turned around as she ogles and sniffs after a new character who’s introduced. This is still a kid’s film, but the way they get around that by ‘sexualising’ the image of Eret’s straining, sweat-slick bicep is hilarious. To me at least.
As an antagonist, they have a weird dreadlocked angry scary guy who knows a few things about dragons himself. The charmingly named Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) yells at people and growls in a most adorable fashion. He really hates dragons, and he hates them so much that he wants to conquer all of them presumably before he sets off and then takes over the world.
He wants to enslave them all, Hiccup wants to free them all and get everyone to live together in perfect harmony, side by side like the ebony and ivory keys on my piano. The wrinkle they throw into this is that someone else is trying to save dragons from Drago, and this person is a complete mystery! I couldn't guess just from the trailers who it would be, and whether she was friend or foe.
Fingers crossed for foe. Nah, she's voiced by Cate Blanchett, so she must be someone wonderful. One of my favourite visual images or scenes from the flick involved her character, called Valka, I believe, wing walking along a bunch of dragons in mid-flight, casually sauntering along like it was a Sunday stroll down the boulevard, dressed in her freaky "I wish I was a dragon too" armour.
It's nice to see her character introduced, but I'm not sure her character makes a lot of sense, even if she is (now) necessary. The connection she has to Berk is such that her reasons for staying away for twenty whole years makes little to no sense. You don't write, you don't call, you could easily have dropped by, since, with your frequent flyer points and, um, a million dragons at your disposal, could have flown around any time over the last two decades.
But no, then it wouldn't have been a surprise. It would have been much easier, motivation-wise, for her to just admit that the Viking life was boring for her, and she preferred the company of dragons. Because, let's face it, things were pretty grim and dull until the dragons came along. No dental hygiene, old age in your thirties, uncomfortable underwear, all that pillaging and the other thing, nasty.
If there is another element that was problematic for me, and I did mention that there were two, it's that there is no real need for complexity in a flick like this, but the simplistic nature of the good versus evil equals white versus black struck me as queasily irritating. Two great beasts struggle to control all of dragonkind, and the only way these geniuses could think of to differentiate them was that the 'good' one was pure white, and the 'bad' one was darker. Really?
Weird. But other than that, you know, it was all perfect. Kit Harrington, who some might know as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones, voices a part here as Eret, a dragon trapper who is eventually befriended by the crew. Every second time he would speak, since I recognised his voice, I’d shake my head contemptuously and mutter to myself with the accent of a Scottish / Wildling woman "You know nothing, Eret."
Ah, the petty things that amuse me. The smaller scale conflicts, the larger conflicts are all resolved in a satisfying way, balancing the big moments with the tiny ones, like the love of a father for a son, or of a boy for his dragon. I found it enthralling, enrapturing, delightful and irritating at points, but only at very small rare points. It’s also very sad at a few keys points, so much so that the ‘happy ending’ seemed a little glib, to me, like they were worried that if they dwelled on what happened, audiences would wail and tear their garments upon leaving the cinema, or poke out the lenses from their 3D glasses and vow never again to care about a computer-generated character lest they feel such tremendous loss again.
I don’t know if there’s more story to explore in a third flick. I’m willing to find out, that’s for sure, because I enjoyed it, and I’m a man of advancing years and dubious merits, and my daughter enjoyed it, and she’s a brilliant firecracker of a seven-year-old, so they’ve got those two demographics covered.
It’s a delight.
9 times I wonder what I could do with a massive dragon army - that doesn’t involve killing everyone who disagrees with me out of 10
“This is Berk. Life here is amazing. Dragons used to be a bit of a problem. But now they've all moved in.” – that’s one way to solve the problem – How to Train Your Dragon 2
Rating: 9 stars