As befitting its title, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is textbook… for a typical, predictable sequel.
Lacking the charm that soared its predecessor to success, Dragon 2 is ultimately, and sadly, a blank canvas.
MINI-SPOILERS MARK: Minor plot details without major spoilers discussed beyond this point
Five years after Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (Jay Baruchel) met his scaled best bud Toothless, the protagonist has grown from the scrawny adolescent to a 20-year-old hot stud. Indeed, he is gorgeous, and the only one to have gone through any significant physical transformation.
Hiccup is poised to succeed his father, the ever so stoic Stoick (Gerard Butler), as chieftain of the now dragon-riding Viking tribe, but he doubts his ability to do so because he does not know his true self. It is only when Hiccup runs into his long-lost mother (Cate Blanchett) that he learns about the person he was born to be and his potential, but not before he has to save every dragon within his reach from the control of the power-hungry Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou).
It is hard to know where to begin when discussing what makes this film so exceptionally ordinary, and almost an epitome of the typical sequel of 21st century cinema.
For one, Dragon 2 is nothing special. The film is a combination of every plot worn thin from overuse. The protagonist has a need to identify his parentage to feel complete and determine his own destiny. A power-hungry villain seeks to rule the world by creating his own massive army. And friendship and the heart is the only way to reconnect with a friend under mental control of the enemy. These exhaustively used plots are almost offensive, at times making it seem like the dragons themselves were tired of entertaining us and were simply enduring screen time for extra raw fish.
If Dragon 2 aimed to be the typical, common sequel of today, then it was an immense success. Characteristics of such overdone sequels are as abundant as the dragons themselves in this film. There is a bigger nemesis-slash-issue that was conveniently not addressed in the first film. Said bigger nemesis makes the adventures and struggles in the first film comparatively child’s play. The film is loaded with bigger aerial fight scenes that are certainly not enough to lift the movie’s standards.
And, of course, previously meaningful supporting characters are now completely useless; Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and friends Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Tuffnut (T.J. Miller) and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) all fall victims to this degradation, and add no value or influence to the plot besides unrecognised emotional and manpower support to the protagonist. Despite their new means of travel via dragonback, the Vikings of Berk are unable to discover and bring back new material.
If any character actually succeeded, it would be the villain in wrecking more havoc on the film’s standard. Antagonist Drago, motivated by a lacklustre backstory, is severely underdeveloped. The worst part is the obvious attempt to shove some depth into the character within 15 seconds, through briefly revealed motivations for his wanting Viking and Dragon-land domination. Oy vey, José.
But to acknowledge the film’s few redeeming qualities, it must be noted that the new additions add a tinge of freshness to this otherwise dry and barren adventure. The thespian marvel that is Cate Blanchett is unrecognisable when her voice completely transforms and disappears into the character of Valka, Hiccup’s long-lost mother. The now-found missing half of Hiccup’s gene pool certainly gives her son a run for his money, standing completely balanced on her dragons during flight and riding them “Look, no hands!”-style. Simply put, she is cool. Very cool.
Kit Harrington of Game of Thrones fame joins the cast as the dragon trapper Eret, the source of romantic affection for Wiig‘s Ruffnut, who is the film’s strongest source of comic relief. Ruffnut’s relentless romantic pursuits of Eret are genuinely hilarious and undoubtedly the only lines from the film that you will truly remember, and still giggle at, for weeks.
Dragon 2, of course, trumps its predecessor in its aerial dragon-riding action scenes, which are plentiful. The variety of dragons and the artistic effort dedicated to bringing them to life must be applauded. Needless to say, the fantastical creatures are the true stars of the franchise, and are more impressive than ever in this sequel.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 will pleasure those looking for a simple adventure and who crave aerial action scenes fought dragonback.
But if you seek that Dreamworks magic that stays with you for life, look somewhere else. Here, Toothless has nothing substantial to sink his retractable teeth into.
Rating: 2.5/5 (TALK-o-meter: “Meh… not horrible, but not good.”)