How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Strike a heroic pose.
Strike a heroic pose.

Twitter Plot Summary: Hiccup and Toothless return five years later and have to stop their island home being destroyed by a pirate viking chap.

Five Point Summary:

1. Mapping the islands.
2. A large threat looms, as do Jon Snow’s muscles.
3. Crazy cat lady with dragons.
4. Titans and death.
5. United against the common enemy.

Several years have passed since Hiccup and Toothless joined forces and brought peace to Berk, island home of a settlement of vikings led by Gerard Butler’s Stoick, and Hiccup has set about exploring and charting the local area. Unfortunately – and because the plot demands it – he encounters a group of dragon hunters and it then escalates into an effort to protect Berk from a far superior force led by sinister pirate viking chap Drago, voiced by Djimon Hounsou.

Whilst all this going on Hiccup is reunited with his mother, previously thought dead, but who is instead living on an island that she has turned into a dragons sanctuary. For want of a better term, she is like a mad old cat lady but with dragons instead of cats. Her role – wobbly Cate Blanchett accent aside – is in part to help Hiccup come to terms with growing up and increasing responsibility – something Hiccup is less than interested in, particularly as his father is positioning him to take control when he’s gone.

This series is never afraid to cover some darker themes – the first film did see Hiccup lose a leg after all. That sense of darkness continues in this second entry, with a surprising death that provides some emotional impetus leading into the final act. it’s around this point in the film that Dragon 2 manages to achieve a sense of epic scale that is an unusual sight in what is primarily an animated movie aimed at the children’s market.

Watch out Toothless, she'll probably try and claim ownership of you.
Watch out Toothless, she’ll probably try and claim ownership of you.

In an interesting twist, the characters have all aged since the first movie, essentially ageing in real time with their audience. Whilst this doesn’t play a huge part in the story other than teenage hormones rearing their ugly head, it’s nice to see them develop and grow as animation traditionally leaves the characters at a static point in time. Drago is quite underdeveloped as a villain, being evil apparently for the sake of it and not developing much beyond wanting to control everything. He’s got a lot of power as it is so it’s not that difficult to dislike him, but a little more than cliche villain territory would have enhanced his role considerably.

There are a couple of notable missteps – female characters get short shrift, Hiccup’s incessant belief that there is good in everybody means the plot doesn’t so much as progress as meander, and an ongoing gag about Eret (Kit Harrington)’s muscles wears thin after the first couple of mentions, but otherwise it’s a perfect example of how to present an animated film that appeals to all ages, and also to provide an epic sense of scale without losing sight of the characters or the story arc. Dragon 2 was oft-described ahead of release in similar terms to The Empire Strikes Back, and it’s easy to see why – the scale is ramped up, the story darker, and the threat to the characters we grew to love in the first film is even greater than before. It bodes the question as to how far Dragon 3 will push this notion of mature storytelling, and proves that the surprise hit status of the first movie was not a one-off.

Score: 4/5

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