I really liked the first How to Train Your Dragon (though perhaps not quite as much as some webcartoonists) and I’ve dug what I’ve seen of the TV series (but not enough to make it appointment viewing). This is a universe I’ve enjoyed spending time in. Suffice it to say, I was looking forward to How to Train Your Dragon 2. And while it wasn’t perfect, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 starts five years after the first film and dragons are now fully integrated into all aspects of society in Berk. But while everyone else is competing in dragon races, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) spends his time exploring and map-making (and avoiding his father). It’s on one of these excursions that Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera), run afoul of some dragon trappers who lay out the plot for them. The trappers sell the dragons to a villain named Drago (Djimon Hounsou) who’s building a dragon army. Hiccup and Astrid aren’t the first dragon riders the trappers have encountered. Someone keeps rescuing the dragons and Drago is not happy about that.
Throw in the stuff you’ve seen in the ads and trailers about Hiccup finding his long-lost mother (Cate Blanchett) and you’ve got yourself a movie. It’s a movie that, epic dragon battles aside, is really about responsibility and family. It’s always nice to find a film (especially one geared toward kids) that’s trying to say something without trying to say something. It also includes one of the most heart-breaking lines I’ve ever heard in a movie
Those epic dragon battles I mentioned, they’re pretty great. There’s a moment where two massive dragons fight that legitimately rivals anything in Godzilla or Pacific Rim and it largely happens in the background of other smaller-scale fighting.
If the movie has a flaw (and it does), it’s how it treats the returning side characters. All of Hiccup and Astrid’s friends have been reduced to essentially repeating the same one or two lines throughout the movie. Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) will do anything to impress Ruffnut (Kristin Wiig). She’s annoyed and exasperated by their attention, but acts the exact same way toward dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harrington) when she meets him. Ruffnut spends the entire movie as either a prize to be won or doting on a stranger (who just captured her dragon). TJ Miller’s Tuffnut, however, has almost no lines at all.
That being said, the other characters are all treated with respect and written as nuanced, fully-realized characters – especially Hiccup’s mother, Valka. who’s just phenomenal (and I imagine will be a very popular cosplay). There are no damsels in distress here and no one needs to be rescued (though the plot hinges on multiple people thinking Hiccup is and does). It’s just a lot of Vikings with dragons, being exactly as awesome as you’d expect Vikings with dragons to be.
I give it 8 LIGHTSABERS?!? out of 10.