How to Train Your Dragon 2: An Honest Review

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Directed By: Dean DeBlois

Written By: Dean DeBlois, Cressida Cowell (“How to Train Your Dragon” book series)

Music Composed By: John Powell

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington

Marge and I just got back from seeing How to Train Your Dragon 2 and this movie wowed us. So, even though I have some E3 stuff to catch up on (o.O), both Marge and I will be co-writing our Honest Review of How to Train Your Dragon 2. Let’s dig in shall we!

Now, for those who aren’t familiar with the first movie…why are you reading? It’s a sequel! Get out of here!

…just kidding.

The How to Train Your Dragon franchise is based on a series of (currently) 12 children’s books, the first in the series falling under the exact same name. The first book has quite a few differences from the first film (which you can see by following the link above), but the books’ author Cressida Cowell has said that she likes the films, and understands that changes must be made in adaptation.

The first movie’s plot (spoilers, by the way) is centered on dragon prejudice, as the creatures repeatedly terrorized Berk, the home of the Viking characters. All of the humans have gross or unpleasant names to make them tough, we think, and they only kept dragons to train their young to fight them. They catalogued information about them in a book as well, noting that dragons breeds and abilities are about as varied as pokemon.

Hiccup, who is the son of the chief but weaker, skinnier, and more tender-hearted compared to other kids, struggles to fight the dragons like everyone else.

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Not because he really wants to, but because he wants to please his village and his father. He finds the latter particularly difficult, because his father regards him as kind of an embarrassment, and doesn’t listen to him much. Figuratively and literally, Hiccup has some big shoes to fill.

Trying to kill a dragon his own way (that being the brain over brawn, inventive way), he manages to wound a particularly elusive terror called the Night Fury, which no one has ever really seen. But instead of killing the thing, he befriends and learns from it, even inventing a way that it can fly again, with him in the saddle.

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Together, he and his new buddy, Toothless, work to bridge the gap between humans and dragons, culminating in a grand misunderstanding with the village and his dad, and, eventually, a climactic fight with a large “queen” dragon that has been intimidating the other, smaller dragons and demanding food sacrifices. The Vikings realize they were wrong, and they wrangle and ride the dragons to victory.

Hiccup nearly loses his life in the battle, but he makes it out with a brief fakeout moment (as you do with movies aimed at kids), and the loss of one leg.

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Quite a bold move for a family movie, too. But he and his blacksmith friend put together a neat, tricked-out peg leg for him, and he is back in the saddle in no time flat, finally accepted by his father and the rest of the village.

That, we believe, is Dreamwork‘s niche. They seem to love making stories about underdogs, as well as genre homages that end up becoming franchises of their own.

Another cool thing about this movie is that the loss of an important limb, for both Hiccup and Toothless, doesn’t ostracize or weaken them in any way from either dragons or the rest of Berk. The two primarily depend on each other, and become the strongest dragon/rider combo of the whole bunch.

But yeah. Happily ever afters all around! Everything is better than before!

Or is it?

*Warning*

This article contains not just some spoilers, but all the spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the movie and you want to see it for yourself, stop reading here!

Plot

Five years from the first film, the teens are now all young adults. The Vikings have reformed and the dragons are now fully integrated, contributing members of society. The other kids in the last movie, who initially thought Hiccup had some awesome dragon taming/slaying ability and only gradually figured out that he was befriending them in secret, have now become skilled dragon riders and racers.

Hiccup is being set up to be the next village chief, a responsibility he does not want. Though he, with his trusty pet dragon Toothless, has discovered many unexplored lands and territories, he has not discovered what he truly wants because he has not fully discovered himself.

While investigating a wildfire, Hiccup and Astrid discover the remains of a fort encased in a massive ice formation. They encounter a young dragon trapper named Eret, who blames them for the destruction of his fort.

Plus, Hiccup has a f***ing lightsaber!

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….Okay so it’s not a lightsaber. It’s called a Dragon’s Blade, nicknamed Inferno. But still, it’s freaking awesome and badass.

Eret then attempts to capture Hiccup and Astrid’s dragons for a conqueror called Drago Bludvist, from whom Eret has received a scar for failing to capture enough dragons.

Hiccup and Astrid are able to escape this encounter and return to Berk to warn Stoick about the dragon army that Drago is amassing. Stoick, who has decided to “protect his own”, orders the villagers to fortify the entire island and prepare for battle instead of attempting to reason with Drago, as Hiccup suggested. Hiccup then flies off with Astrid as they are closing the gates and they heroically…surrender themselves and their dragons to Eret, so as to be taken to Drago.

However, Stoick, Gobber and Berk’s other dragon riders pursue and find them before Eret takes him to Drago. Stoick explains to Hiccup that he once met Drago before. Drago wanted to convince the whole Viking console that he knew how to kill all the dragons and all they had to do for that would be to bow down to him. They laughed it off, as did most of the group listening to this story, but when Drago stormed out, an armored dragon crashed through the roof and burned the place. Only Stocik escaped with his life, and the event has clearly shaken him to this day.

Hiccup refuses to believe that war is inevitable and again, flies off with Toothless. They are captured by a dragon rider named Valka. Inferno can be used not only for the use of combat, but also to allow him to bond with wild dragons and show them that he is “one of their own.”

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Valka is revealed to be Hiccup’s long lost mother. She explains that she spent twenty years rescuing dragons from Drago’s traps and bringing them to an island haven created out of ice by a colossal Alpha dragon called a Bewilderbeast, to whom all dragons answer. The two of them then make up for lost time, bonding as mother and son over their mutual love of dragons.

As it turns out, Valka was once like Hiccup. She believed that dragons were good, and tried to persuade others to no avail. She realized she was right when, during one “dragon attack,” one of the creatures snuck into Hiccup’s room. Instead of hurting or eating him, it played with him, but Stoick muscled his way onto the scene and, mistaking the situation, engaged the dragon in combat. It burned the room and fled, taking Valka with it.

This explains most of Stoick’s dislike and distrust of dragons in the previous film, fixed only when he sees Toothless loyally defend and fight with his son, against all odds.

Stoick and Gobber track Hiccup to the island, where he discovers that his wife is still alive. Simultaneously, Astrid and the other riders kidnap Eret, thinking Hiccup has gone after Drago, but they are also captured and Drago learns of Berk’s dragons and the nest with the alpha, leading him to drop everything and hightail-it there.

His army lays siege to Valka’s sanctuary, where he reveals that he has his own Bewilderbeast to challenge the Alpha. A titanic battle erupts between the two Bewilderbeasts in a fight for control over all of the dragons. Drago’s Bewilderbeast emerges victorious (by killing the other one, albeit bloodlessly) and seizes control of all the dragons.

Hiccup tries to persuade Drago to end the violence, but Drago has a vendetta against dragons, and has grown increasingly unreasonable and power-hungry. With control of the new alpha, and by extension, the dragon army, he can wipe out dragons with other dragons, and subjugate the humans who come to him for protection.

He can’t see the potential to befriend the dragons and gain their respect.

Toothless, under the influence of the new Alpha (which Drago directly and verbally commands), approaches Hiccup and fires a plasma blast at him. At the last instant, Stoick pushes Hiccup out of the way, and is hit instead, killing him instantly. When Toothless regains his senses, a heart-broken and angry Hiccup drives him off. Drago leaves Hiccup and the others, riding the re-bewitched Toothless, and leads his now larger army to destroy/enslave Berk.

Stoick is given a neat “Epcot Viking funeral”; a cool image, complete with a ship set ablaze by flaming arrows. Hiccup, filled with regret at the loss of his father, but also new determination, decides that he will fly back to Berk to “protect his own,” as both Stoick and Valka advised him previously.

The dragon riders ride baby dragons, which are immune to the Bewilderbeast’s control (as they don’t listen to anyone. Haha, sure the parents got a good snort out of that one), and arrive at Berk after the Alpha has already attacked on the village and taken control of the dragons there. Drago destroys things and generally terrifies the village.

Hiccup confronts Drago and a brainwashed Toothless in the air, while the other riders work to distract the Bewilderbeast by catapulting sheep, among other things. Drago again orders Toothless to kill Hiccup, but Hiccup succeeds in disenchanting Toothless. He knew his friend never meant to hurt him, or his father, and his courage and unyielding trust in the dragon break through to him, and he fights the alpha’s control from there on out.

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Drago then orders the Alpha to shoot the pair, and the Bewilderbeast successfully encases them in a large blast of ice, seemingly killing them. His victory is short-lived however, as Toothless, now glowing with plasma, blasts away the ice, revealing that both he and Hiccup are unharmed. Toothless challenges the alpha, repeatedly fires plasma blasts at it. At this, the other dragons are freed from the Bewilderbeast’s control and all fire at it, severely injuring the colossal dragon until Toothless fires a final massive blast, breaking its left tusk.

Defeated, Drago and his Bewilderbeast retreat into the ocean as the villagers celebrate their victory. All the dragons acknowledge Toothless as the new alpha dragon, and Hiccup is made chief of Berk by the village elder. The film ends with Berk being rebuilt with a statue erected in Stoick’s likeness, and Hiccup living up to his duties as chief.

In the last film, the dialogue from the beginning is turned on its head in the end. Now, it reaffirms the convictions of the beginning, that dragons are their friends and worthy of their respect, with an extra quip that playfully warns away anyone who would rise against them. Hiccup proudly declares that while others may have armies and armadas, Berk has dragons. So good luck with that.

Characters

 

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Hiccup is the main human character. He is a bit scrawny and wimpy, although now a bit less so, but makes up for it with his resourcefulness, intelligence, and his desire to keep the peace and negotiate. He hesitates a bit, unsure of himself and uncomfortable living in his father’s shadow, but both this and the previous film do a great job showing him coming into his own, finding his own strength as the next leader of his village. He can build traps, equipment for dragons and riders, and a glider that allows him to fly alongside Toothless, at times. He spends a lot of time exploring the land around Berk, naming and mapping it.

Toothless is Hiccup’s dragon companion. While he is silent (aside from gurgles and various sound effects), his face and body are very fluid and expressive, giving him almost as much personality as Hiccup. He is covered in black scales, has black and yellow eyes and a large mouth. The left side of his tail fin is missing, replaced by an artificial one that Hiccup put in place. He is a fast and agile flier, and rumored to be the last of his kind, the Night Fury, which is known as one of the most, if not the most, intelligent breed of dragons.

Stoick is the head of Berk, father of Hiccup, and best friend to Gobber, the blacksmith. While he is accepting of dragons now, he can still be stubborn and not listen to Hiccup, who frequently mumbles and beats around the bush anyway. He is large, strong, and extremely loyal, to the point that he does not appear at all angry with his wife, even though she essentially hid from him for 20 years.

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Drago Bludvist is a new character, and the resident “bad guy.” His unnamed village was attacked when he was a kid, and his arm was either chewed or blasted off. His only real character trait is ruthlessness. He shows no mercy to dragons, or people, if they cross him.

He could have been more interesting, given more motivation, personality, or even less vagueness in his backstory. He isn’t forgettable, necessarily, but he comes across as very standard. By the books baddie.

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Valka is a new character, wife of Stoick and mother of Hiccup. She has essentially gone Tarzan, living in harmony with the dragons and learning all of their secrets. She did not go back to Stoick and Hiccup (even after she learned to ride dragons) because she was convinced that nothing in Berk would ever change, and she couldn’t compromise what she felt was the right thing. As with Drago, it might have been interesting to learn more about her, but que sera sera…

Astrid is (now officially) Hiccup’s fiancé. In the last film, she was stubborn, proud, and violent, but now she is a bit more reserved emotionally. She still has her fun, snarky, ass-kicking moments, and moments where she mouths off at the bad guys, too. She is the best fighter of the group, and has become almost as good a dragon rider as Hiccup, despite getting pushed to the background frequently.

The rest of the group are Fishlegs, the large, clumsy, nerdy one; Snoutlout, the bro-y guy who thinks he’s cooler than he is; and Ruffnut and Tuffnut, fraternal twins that like to prank, bicker, and generally be vulgar with themselves and others. Ruffnut, the girl twin, crushes on Eret after she meets him, constantly flirting and making creepy faces.

<Marge note: 50% of the time, she is funny, and the other 50% is “Do. Not. Want!”>

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For a while, she also has Fishlegs and Snoutlout at her beck and call. I guess that is because she is the only single girl left in the group, but she uses them, then acts disgusted and annoyed by them, repeatedly.

These characters (other than Astrid) mostly make up different flavors of comic relief, usually relating to slapstick and clumsiness. Gobber is the dry-wit comic relief. He, Astrid, and Hiccup get most of the one-liners.

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Eret is a new character, a dragon trapper that works for Drago. He seems cocky, only interested in money and saving his own skin, but he turns around when Astrid’s dragon saves him from being murdered by Drago.

Music

Since music is my speciality, this part is strictly from me.

John Powell returned from the first movie, which he won his first Academy Award from, to score the sequel. Powell recorded his music in London with a 120 piece orchestra and a 100-voice choir. The music was conducted by the composer’s usual collaborator, Gavin Greenaway. Powell called the project “a maturation story”, stating that he also hoped to achieve maturation in the structure of his music, by further developing and pushing every aspect of his compositions from the original film. Even with such a good foundation, it can be a challenge building off of the old and making outstanding new.

<Marge note: At times in the score, I could swear I heard notes and chords from “Noble Maiden Fair (A Mhaighdean Bhan Uasal),” from Disney/Pixar’s Brave. Just a few, and I couldn’t be totally sure, but still. But I like that song, so no issue there 🙂 Also, all of the adults have Scottish accents (despite the kids sounding distinctly American) anyway.>

Also on the project were pipers from the Scottish group, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers (not to be confused with the “Peppers”), and Sigur Rós lead vocalist, Jónsi, who wrote the songs in collaboration with the composer.

A soundtrack album for the film will be released on June 17, 2014 by Relativity Music Group. The album will feature over an hour of score by Powell, along with two original songs by Jónsi. Powell is expected to come back for the next film as well, which is currently planned for sometime in 2016. Interestingly enough, Norwegian artist Alexander Rybak, who provides the Norwegian voice for Hiccup, also provides the song, “Into a Fantasy” in the European version of the film.

The songs and score combine some of the traditional and modern, which works nicely and fits the more modern characters dwelling in an old world” theme. “Where No One Goes” takes one of the main musical themes from the last movie, and adds lyrics and different instrumentation to it. This song is both of our favorites of the whole soundtrack.

Comedy/Drama/Things Parents Might Want to Know

We’ve already sort of brought up the comedy in the character section. It’s funny, if a little overdone sometimes (particularly Ruffnut). So let’s move on to the drama, shall we?

Oh, the drama. Be warned, for once you reach the second half of the film, the feels get pretty intense. There are aerial battles (of course), but also…

Hiccup’s dad dies instantly, seemingly painlessly, leaving no room for spluttering breaths or a death speech. Hiccup momentarily lashes out at Toothless for killing him (albeit unintentionally), but while Hiccup realizes it too late, as you would expect, it’s pretty quick by the standards of movie run time. Some emotions are short, but well played, making good use of what time they are allowed.

We heard a few kids cry in the theatre during the funeral scene, but at least it didn’t linger on the body so much, like with some other notable characters.

The original alpha dragon dies, but as we’ve mentioned, it’s bloodless and very quick. Marge almost didn’t realize it at first, so it might fly over plenty of people’s heads. At least at first.

We give Dreamworks credit: they certainly don’t pull punches. Maybe everything turns out alright in a Disney movie (except for the parents, because screw having parents!), but Dreamworks seems to like to mess with the typical idea of a “happy ending.” Just like they really like making the main characters of their movies losers, outcasts, or grotesque in some way (probably in an effort to make them more realistic, or at least relatable).

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A happy ending in the last movie meant dealing with the loss of Hiccup’s leg. This movie’s happy ending is moving on from the loss of his father and becoming head of the village. Sometimes, the happiest ending of all is just making it through the day. That can be a worthwhile lesson, even if it isn’t the cheeriest.

Effects

To quote the mighty, all-knowing, and infallible Wikipedia:

“How to Train Your Dragon 2 was the first DreamWorks Animation film that used ‘scalable multi-core processing’, developed together with Hewlett-Packard. Called by Katzenberg as ‘the next revolution in filmmaking,’ it enabled artists for the first time to work on rich complex images in real time, instead of waiting eight hours to see the results next day. The film was also the studio’s first film to use its new animation and lighting software through the entire production. Programs, named Premo  and Torch, allowed much more subtlety, improving facial animation and enabling ‘the sense of fat, jiggle, loose skin, the sensation of skin moving over muscle instead of masses moving together.‘”

Just as with How to Train Your Dragon, the highlights of the film are any given flying seen. Whether just flying to fly, or flying into battle, the characters and their dragons practically leap off of the screen.

Shiiiiiiiiiny.....
Shiiiiiiiiiny…..

If visuals alone could carry a film, this would definitely qualify as a good, strong one. Thankfully, it also has engaging characters and story.

But animation and graphics are crucial, for without them, we would not be able to buy the illusion, no matter how good the story was. That is the simultaneous goal and challenge of film as a medium, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 laughs at such a challenge, daring the audience not to be enthralled and enraptured by the world it has created. Look at the gif above again, and just stare in awe at the detail put into every wave on that CG sea.

Overall (and from both of us)

9 out of 10. Definitely a must see for kids of all ages, especially those at heart.

 

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3 thoughts on “How to Train Your Dragon 2: An Honest Review”

  1. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the layout of your website?

    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so
    people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 pictures.
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    Like

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