How To Train Your Dragon 2 Review

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How to Train Your Dragon was released in 2010 and it blew me away so much that it easily topped my favorites list of the year.

Inception was released in 2010.

This is a roundabout way to illustrate how excited I was for How to Train Your Dragon 2.

Unfortunately hype can set you up for disappointment.

In the moment of seeing How To Tain Your Dragon 2 I was crestfallen. The plot structure was a mess, character motivations were indistinct, and it doesn’t prepare for its climax adequately. By the time the epic battle kicks off I was terrifically confused. Surely a whole additional act of set up was required to earn the scope of this belligerence. And perhaps there was. At times How To Tain Your Dragon 2 feels like a film filled with ideas that started out excellent before being warped and molded into something ‘guaranteed’ to suit all tastes and offend no one. Which is to say that writer-director Dean DeBlois’s story sensibilities seem sound, but something was lost in the execution.

How To Tain Your Dragon 2 picks up five years after the events of the first one. The Viking island nation of Berk is now living harmoniously with dragons. In fact they even have invented their very own sport of dragon ball, played with hapless sheep instead of actual balls (naturally). Our hero, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), has taken to exploring the outer regions of the known world, discovering new lands, new dragons, and new dangers. Before you know it there are dragon trappers shooting down our heroes, dragon armies knocking at the door, and a mysterious figure from Hiccup’s past. It all blends up into a bit of a complicated mess. All of these are great ingredients, it just feels like someone at DreamWorks hit the puree button one to many times.

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Perhaps I am being too hard on what is ostensibly a child’s movie. I am. The first one inspired such joy and thrills in me that I am holding the sequel to a terribly high standard. It didn’t meet it, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t good. In fact it is great in many ways. Individual scenes are excellent. Chief among them is the stellar and beautiful scene where Hiccup’s parents, reunited, dip into nostalgia and sing a song from their courtship. The character relationships have evolved in honest and truthful ways. Hiccup and Astrid behave as a teenaged couple would, and it is a treat to see them together, even if it is just for one scene. The dragon action is flat-out exhilarating. And the movie deals with strong themes such as the struggle for diplomacy over violence, searching for oneself, the power of family, and honoring your duty.

Like the Viking courtship shanty, the high moments of How To Tain Your Dragon 2 positively sing. It pulls out the right emotions at the right times. It is just getting to each of those moments can leave you scratching your head.

How To Tain Your Dragon 2’s biggest missed opportunity is its villain, Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou). He isn’t given enough back story to be considered a fully human character. But he also isn’t given enough screen time to be cemented as a thematic villain. Instead we’re left with a villain of indistinct motivation who amounts to little more than just a new obstacle for our heroes.

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How To Tain Your Dragon 2 is undeniably the most beautiful animated film to date. Thanks to master cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is responsible for almost all of the Coen Brother’s aesthetic. Most of us are familiar with Deakin’s work in Skyfall, which was the first even Bond film to look beautiful. Deakins, serving as visual consultant, brings his complete and masterful understanding of light, frame, and focus to How To Tain Your Dragon 2. He uses these tools expertly, but in a restrained manner. As a result each frame of this movie is worthy of being hung on a wall.,

Are How To Tain Your Dragon 2’s short comings enough to keep you from buying a ticket? Not at all. It is chockfull of good stuff, strong themes, and honest emotions that its inelegant execution isn’t enough to sink it. At the very least it is a visual treat unlike any other.
I will never, ever grow tired of flying with Hiccup and Toothless.

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