June 12, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “How To Train Your Dragon 2″”


HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2:  Worth A Ticket – Bigger Isn’t Always Better, But Still Good Enough

Like a lot of sequels animated and not, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 has been conceived on a much more spectacular scale than its predecessor, and as it’s become a bigger and more conventional action-adventure, it’s lost a bit of its original charm.  Still, it’s the classiest franchise in the DreamWorks Animation stable by far–admittedly not that hard when you’re competing with Kung Fu Panda and The Croods–and there’s plenty of pleasure to be found in it for all ages.

The action picks up 5 years after the events of the original Dragon.  (A TV series has taken place during the intervening years.)  The Viking harbor town of Berk has become a veritable paradise of human-dragon companionship, spearheaded by Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his pet/best buddy/partner Toothless.  Even Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler), the town’s serious-minded leader, has found himself a dragon companion.  Hiccup, his now-girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and their respective dragons occupy their days going on treks and mapping out the surrounding territory, but since 90 minutes of happy people and dragons wouldn’t be much of a movie, they happen upon the dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harington from Game of Thrones, albeit not from the dragon end of Westeros), who confesses that he works for the vicious Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), who’s seizing and brainwashing tame dragons into becoming the firepower of his marauding army.

Hiccup’s attempt to find and make peace with Drago leads him to an even bigger surprise:  Valka (Cate Blanchett), his long-lost mother, whom he believed to be dead, but who has actually spent the years organizing a giant dragon sanctuary.  That makes it a natural target for Drago, who wreaks havoc, causing some permanent damage.  The movie’s new dragon mythology is that the beasts can all be psychically controlled by a mega-dragon called a Bewilderbeast–Valka has one, who keeps all her surrounding dragons amiable and peaceful, but so does Drago, who has an evil one.  Any dragon–yes, even Toothless–who comes under its spell becomes violent.  All of this leads to a massive battle for Berk and the future of all dragon-kind.

Dean DeBlois, who was one of the writers and directors on the first Dragon, is fully in charge this time, and some portions of what he’s added works better than others.  Valka is a fine addition (and of course having Cate Blanchett on board can’t help but be a positive), and the handling of her growing bond with her son and her complicated relationship with Stoick are well-handled, even if 20 years of absence are forgiven rather quickly.  On the other hand, Drago is a boringly one-dimensional villain, and the revelation that all dragons are subject to the will of the Bewilderbeast feels like a cheat to the concept of dragons as originally drawn in the story, a studio-imposed denial of their beautifully-realized free will.  Ultimately it’s just a gimmick needed to force Toothless’s “shocking” betrayal, and then of course the ultimate victory of true friendship over evil.  The visuals of the gigantic battles, with seemingly hundreds of distinct dragons involved, are stunningly realized (as in the first film, the great cinematographer Roger Deakins is credited as “Visual Consultant”), but all that scale, and the time spent on these massive sequences, water down the purer emotion of the original Dragon, making it more of a standard summer spectacle about super-soldiers under supernatural control than the genuinely unique story told the first time around.

There are still many pleasures to be found in Dragon 2.  All of the original vocal cast is back, including Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller as various Berkians, and their idiosyncracies are well in place, while the animation of the key dragons, especially Toothless, continues to be wonderful.  The partnership between Hiccup and Toothless is marvelously depicted, and Jay Baruchel has never played a live-action role that’s suited him more than his animated one here.  John Powell has provided a stirring score, and the pace hops nimbly from joke to battle.  The vistas displayed as Hiccup and Toothless explore the lands around them are truly remarkable.  This sequel will please millions around the world, and rightly so, and it will undoubtedly take in the hundreds of millions it’s designed to earn.  It’s just a bit sad, if unsurprising, that along the way, How To Train Your Dragon has become a piece of business rather than just a marvelous entertainment.  There will certainly be a third in the series, and one hopes that in the struggle to become ever-bigger, it doesn’t become the animated version of a Transformers movie.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."