Starring Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler & Kate Blanchett
When the original How To Train Your Dragon first soared into your screens back in 2010 with it’s winning mixture of heart-warming Boy and his Dragon spin on the ‘Lassie’ trope, solid laughs and eye ravishing CG flight sequences it was the surprise hit of the summer.
It told the coming of age tale of Hiccup (voiced by the eternally teenage tones of Jay Baruchel), the nerdy son of the Viking Chieftain, Stoick the Vast (Butler) who ruled over the dragon hating island village of Berk. In 98 minutes Hiccup made a friend in an abandoned dragon called ‘Toothless’, got his blockheaded village to embrace their fire breathing reptile neighbours whilst also evolving from Medieval dork to badass dragon rider and winning his father’s respect It was a very straightforward, villain-free, uplifting fantasy tale – so with that in mind and knowing that the same creative team were back on board I went in with high hopes and was not let down.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 picks up the story 5 years later. Hiccup is a dragon rider par excellance and whilst out soaring the skies with his buddies, in a spectacularly thrilling opening flight sequence, they stumble upon a group of dragon trappers who are collecting all of the known dragons for their mysterious boss, eventually revealed to be one Drago Bloodvist (voiced brilliantly by Djimon Hounsou), who has a dramatic history with the Vikings of Berk and unnatural need to rule the planet by controlling all dragons.
Hiccup and his friends speed home to warn their clan of the oncoming threat, but they stubbornly rather prepare for war rather than try Hiccup’s idea of bidding for peace. This leads our hero to decide that he’s a good enough negotiator to convince Drago not to invade their home and enslave its dragons. On the way to find Drago, Hiccup runs into another Dragon Rider named Valka, who has a strange (if slightly predictable) connection to his past and is voiced by Cate Blanchett in one of the best voice acting performances I’ve ever experienced . Valka oversees a secret ice cavern that houses something like a dragon sanctuary loaded with hundreds of unique and colourful creatures.
Darker and emotionally more complex, it’s easily DreamWorks’ most mature and accomplished film yet. Like its predecessor (in which Hiccup and Toothless were both maimed during the finale) this is a universe that has real stakes and consequences,There’s a moment that touches upon a great moment in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom but unlike that movie, it doesn’t pull back from it’s edge of seat suspense and delivers a blow that had me shocked with admiration that they not only went there but pulled it off amazingly. This made the emotional gut-punches of ensuing drama and action all the more absorbing and affecting.
The visuals are eye ravishing just as the first, the sheer volume of creativity that went into designing each dragon and making them as different from each other in inventive way was wonderful. Almost as impressive as the variety of dragons is the vast landscapes that act as playgrounds, battlegrounds and foregrounds for all of characters. So few 3D films these days really make a difference; but Dragon 2 is a 3D sensation, rendered bright and crisp and beautifully layered and textured. Those dragon POV flight sequences are going to make your stomach do flips. At this point, it should probably be mentioned that the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins is again credited as a creature consultant on the film; that alone should be encouraging.
The film It expands the world established in the first film, adds new characters, explores new lands, provides nuance to what we knew before whilst also wonderfully weaving in fascinating new chapters into the movie’s mythological quilt, but nonetheless concentrates on telling a complete story centred on its strong characters. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not only a beautiful, elegant, brilliantly written and sweeping epic animated work but also a terrific case study of how to make a world-building sequel just right.