Saturday, 7 June 2014

Film Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is the latest animated feature from Dreamworks Pictures - following on from the highly successful (and critically-acclaimed) 2010 predecessor, Dragons 2 is everything a popular sequel should be - and who'd have thought fire-breathing reptiles could be so cuddly?

Like a ferocious dragon, the sequel is a tricky beast that is hard to tame. Burdened with the weight of expectation, it's a matter of sink or swim with sequels. And, as we've seen in the past, Dreamworks sequels have the tendency to be a little hit-and-miss; Shrek 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2 are great, but Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa? Not so much.

Thankfully, Dragons 2 falls into the former category, in some ways surpassing the other two sequels that I mentioned. It isn't perfect, but Dreamworks have really outdone themselves on this one, delivering a follow-up that doesn't tarnish the first. This is mostly because of the creative decisions taken to break out of the mould and defy expectation in a narrative sense - but more of that later.

The plot of How To Train Your Dragon 2 picks up six years after the first film, something which in itself isn't something you'd usually see. As a result, things have certainly changed for our characters, with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), Astrid (America Ferrera) and the gang now heroes in their little town of Berk. Under the lead of tribe chief (and father) Stoick (Gerard Butler), the town and its residents are now living in harmony with dragons, with Hiccup and Toothless exploring the boundary of their kingdom.

It's here that the film nails an essential element of the sequel, by showing us the bigger world and expanding the possibilities of the franchise. The lead duo are also brilliant, with Baruchel settled into the role, and the design and characterisation of Toothless being pitch-perfect. Part-cat, part-bat and 100% adorbs, he really does steal the show. Why can't I own an awesome dragon like him?

The rest of the star-studded cast have also returned to lend their voices to the young Norse troop. Jonah Hill once again voices Snotlout, with TJ Miller and Kristen Wiig as twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is also onboard as the voice of Fishlegs. Wiig aside, these supporting characters really don't have all the much to do, other than take part in a comical love-triangle between Snotlout, Ruffnut and Fishlegs. There could have been more of them, with their roles expanded a little better, but maybe that is just me being picky.

I found that the second half of the film was a lot, lot stronger than the first half. Things start off feeling a little rushed, as the film scrambles to both get the audience up to speed on the intervening years and also introduce new characters (Kit Harington as Eret, Cate Blanchett as Valka). It's when things slow down a touch in the middle that things improve. So whilst the frantic opening feels a bit slap-dash, it's the tender and fiery second half that saves the show.

The film makes some bold choices with the narrative, veering into much darker and emotional territory than I had been expecting. If Dragons is going to be a trilogy/saga, think of this film as the Empire Strikes Back of said saga. It's really sad, much like you'd see in something from Pixar.

The biggest plus from Dragons 2 is the animation and visual effects. Much like the first film, Dreamworks really captures that sense of adventure and wonderment with some of the most thrilling and eye-poppingly gorgeous animation. John Powell's fantastic score and original tracks from Jonsi (lead singer of Sigur Ros) compliment the beautiful visuals. These elements effectively combine to create something a lot greater than a mere kids film, again recalling films such as Up or WALL-E.

The Verdict: 8/10

Things start off shaky (which means it falls short of surpassing the first) but How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a better sequel than most. Thrilling, heart-wrenching and hilarious, this flick for all-ages is a fantastic follow-up that doesn't sour the original. The voice acting is great, and the animation and score is superb. 


  1. It releases in India this Friday. Looks like i can actually watch it based on what i gather from your review. Very nicely written. I'll watch and return with a comment :)

    1. Thanks for commenting Haricharan :) Definitely worth a watch, its a really great follow-up. Be sure to let me know what you thought!

  2. Great review! I'm so excited to see this one. I never expected to love the original so much, but I think it's the best film Dreamworks has ever put out.

    1. Agree, the first movie far excels any other Dreamworks film. Definitely get excited for this one, it's awesome!



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