“Men who kill without reason cannot be reasoned with.” – Valka
Four years passed between the first How to Train Your Dragon (which I reviewed here) and the second movie. Given how much I loved the first one, you would think I would have been the first person in line to watch this. I am sad to say that I didn’t see this movie until it came out to BluRay, and I can’t for the life of me remember why (and don’t you worry, I’m making up for it with the third one).
Some people might say that four years between sequels is too long, that you’ve lost your audience. The world does seem to be in this “let’s churn movies out as fast as we can and hope they’re good” phase, so it’s refreshing to see Dreamworks take this franchise so seriously.
I do have to note that for this review and all subsequent reviews moving forward, I will no longer be giving a synopsis. I may mention parts of the story, but the whole point of a review isn’t to recite the movie, it’s to examine the movie. As such, let’s break down this one, shall we?
Let me start by asking a question: What’s the point of a sequel?
To a studio, the answer might seem simple: Money. You have already established characters re-emerging into the world every few years to sell tickets, merchandise, etc.
As a movie-goer and a fan, you love these characters and what to see more of them. There’s a story that hasn’t been told yet. You want to delve deeper into the world that the director, producer, and screenwriter have spent so much time on. You’ve invested yourself with this world so much that it begins to feel real, and what happens to them becomes utmost importance (come on, who wasn’t sad at the end of Return of the King??)
Thank god for this movie, Dean DeBlois was on our side. The Director/writer of this movie, as well as the other two installments, viewed this sequel as a stepping stone to a much bigger story. In his mind, this was always a trilogy, and actually refused to be attached to the franchise unless he was given the freedom to tell the story how he wanted. He viewed these movies much like Star Wars. In fact, he used The Empire Strikes Back as a tonal model for this movie, which is… well, that’s kinda cool.
So does this sequel do what it set out to do? Is it not only a good sequel, but a good movie? Let’s find out
As I’ve said before in many of my reviews, a movie can have a really horrible plot, but as long as the characters are good, I’ll like it. Characters to me are one of the most important aspects of a movie. Their behavior, their relationships and their interactions with one another affect so much of the movie. If one part isn’t believable, the whole movie won’t be believable.
So in a sequel, I expect a few things in terms of characters:
1. continue the relationships set up in the first movie
2. continue to give good side characters their spot, we learn more about them and even grow to consider them as important as the main characters
3. introduce a FEW good, new characters with the same quality as the original characters (but please don’t overload us with so many new characters we can’t remember their names!).
One of the best things about the first movie was the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. We saw its start in the first movie through a mutual respect and understanding that they both needed each other. In this movie, it’s just gotten five years stronger. Hiccup is still that sarcastic, independent viking, still willing to do something crazy if he thinks its the right thing to do, and Toothless is along to save him and remind him with ear slaps and tail whips that not all his ideas are smart.
Hiccup has grown up five years too (Hellloooo animation longbottom-ing!), and with that has come a lot of new knowledge in the realm of dragons (including his awesome sword coated with Monstrous Nightmare gel, Zippleback gas, his new flight suit and some upgrades to Toothless’s harness as well. He also must deal with a whole slew of new personal conflicts, and this takes front and center throughout the movie as we follow the external conflict that is Drago and the dragon trappers.
His father wants him to become chief, a position he thinks he can’t live up to and says very early in the movie “it’s not [him].” It’s the typical Young Adult mindset: a life of being bogged down with responsibility on Berk, or a life of carefree exploring the world on the back of a dragon, discovering new species and new lands.
It’s only through the external conflicts of the movie that he learns exactly what being a “chief” means and where his place truly lies. It’s an amazing storyline for our lead character and done extremely well.
Toothless is still as lovable as ever. Now as an older dragon knowing who he can trust, he and Hiccup really do think and act as one. They could have made Toothless more serious in this installment, with the severity of the storyline, but they didn’t. In some sense, they made him a good chunk of the comic relief in this movie, but it’s done in a subtle and very tactile way, the same as the first movie. The comedy comes from Toothless’s own lovable, loyal, carefree personality, and here, he really shines.
Like Hiccup, Toothless ends the movie on a higher pedestal than he started, but it suits him. I really enjoy the fact that we learn along with toothless some of the abilities he really has.
I will talk more about the relationship between the two a bit later. But first, onto some other characters.
Stoick, the chief of Berk and Hiccup’s father, really grew on me in this movie. In the first, he was painted as a bit of a villain – unforgiving, not willing to listen to his son, desperate to try and connect with a boy who he didn’t feel a connection to, who only had one thing on his mind (to find and kill the dragons). In this movie, he has changed into a man who really feels a connection to his son, his island and his people and the dragons that inhabit it. Although half of the movie he’s literally chasing after his son and his “bullheadedness,” he’s doing it to try and keep him safe. He’s using his wisdom of the situation and his experience with the villain, Drago, to try and talk some sense into his son. In this case, he’s completely right, but mistakes have to be made to grow, and well, maybe this mistake was the biggest of all.
Astrid and the gang (Gobber, Ruffnut, Tuffnut, Snotlout, and Fishlegs) are back in this movie, and this time they come along with dragons of their own. Though obviously not as explored as the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, you get the feeling these guys care just as much about their dragons (and the Netflix Series: Race to the Edge solidifies this). With the exception of Astrid, the others lend for a lot of the comedy and teen banter in this movie, which can either hit right on or fall short. I believe it really takes the right person in the right mood to appreciate Ruffnut and Tuffnut.
As far as Astrid and Hiccup go, they are obviously in a relationship and have been for who knows how long since the first movie, but it takes a backseat to everything else that is going on. Which is the way it should be. They get a great scene together in the beginning, where it is obvious that they love and respect one another. It’s a REAL relationship, and I’m here for it. It’s what I would expect from Astrid. She’s a strong enough character that she would never sit there and pine for a guy. Instead, she goes off, does her own thing, gives him her advice, and supports him when he needs it. They adore each other. It’s the best.
In terms of new characters, there’s really only two (other than the villain) worth mention. The first is Eret, a dragon trapper turned dragon rider by the end of the movie. He works for Drago and voiced by Kit Harrington, which took me way longer to figure out than it should have. He’s charged with floating around on a boat and hunting dragons to bring back for Drogo’s “Dragon Army.” Hiccup and Astrid discover him while they’re out exploring, and Astrid and the gang end up kidnapping him later to get him to lead them to Drogo’s hideout, which they think is where Hiccup is (spoilers, he’s not).
Astrid’s dragon, Stormfly, takes a strange liking to Eret, eventually going so far as to risk her life for him in Drogo’s camp. It’s only then that he realizes maybe what Hiccup and Astrid first told him might be true. Eret is a likable guy and has a good story arc. I can’t wait to see what they do with him in the third movie.
The other new, and much more important, addition to the story is Hiccup’s Mother, Valka. We don’t hear much about her in the first movie other than a quick mention about how Stoick made Hiccups viking hat out of the other half of her breast plate (keeps her close, you know). While trying to track down Drogo, Hiccup “accidentally” runs into her atop her dragon, Cloudjumper.
Turns out, she and Hiccup have a lot more in common than he ever could have guessed. She’s spent the last 20 years after being taken by Cloudjumper learning about dragons and saving them from Drogo’s traps. Through her, we learn about a number of new dragons, including the rare Alpha species, a huge dragon who protects all of the smaller dragons. She knows so much about dragons that it puts Hiccup’s abilities to shame. She knows exactly how old Toothless is, shows how he can make tight turns, knows he might be the last of his kind, etc.
Valka is voiced by Cate Blanchett, who apparently was the only choice for the roll. I think she does a good job. Valka is an extremely interesting character. She’s calm but forceful. She has been away from people for so long you can tell she’s nervous when Stoick and Gobber show up. She finds more in common with the dragons and even mirror’s Stoick’s words of “we have to protect our own” to Hiccup, while referring to the dragons.
For Hiccup, Valka represents one of the choices he can make. She invites him to stay with her and save the dragons, which at first very much appeals to him. But he is both his mother AND his father, and his want and need to speak to Drogo makes it difficult for him to just give up and “protect his own,” without trying to stop the problem at the source. You have to give him credit for that, even if it goes horribly wrong.
Valka’s existence is found out by Stoick and Gobber, leading to a short but very memorable few scenes between the two of them. For a few brief hours, Hiccup had a family, and she had agreed to return to Berk.
Now onto Drago. Voiced by Dijimon Hounsou, Drago is a man who believes dragons are the way to rule the world, or as Hiccup so wonderfully puts it. “You need dragons to rule people.” He has spent who knows how long amassing a dragon army, built upon the idea of fear.
I’m not going to lie, the first time I watched this, i squealed a little when we first actually saw him interact with our heroes’ dragons, because it mirrors the “old” ideas of dog and horse training vs. the newer methods (oh yeah, I’m a dog trainer, have I ever mentioned that?). After learning so much about how Hiccup got the relationship with Toothless in the first movie, Drago is a complete contrast. He scares the dragons into doing his bidding. He isn’t scared by their fire or their tactics, and just keeps coming at them until they are subdued.
Why is he like this? we really don’t know. He’s missing an arm, so you get the feeling that this is all payback for what they did for him. He wears what looks like a night fury cloak around him, which also begs the question if he’s the reason they’re supposed to be extinct. He’s an imposing, scary man, so much so that he himself has his own Alpha who will do his bidding. Upon defeating Valka’s Alpha (sorry, spoilers), he orders his Alpha to take control of all the other dragons (including Toothless!!) to go after Berk.
There’s no reason for him doing this. And this is where I would argue he’s actually the weakest character in the whole movie. There’s no room for growth, no story arc, he’s just a bad man who at the end learns that loyalty and respect is better than fear and control. Still a good lesson, but eh, I feel they could have made him more interesting.
Ok, so real quick, back to Hiccup and Toothless. When it comes to their relationship, I could write an entire entry on that alone, but all I need to do is talk about a scene near the end of the movie, and you get how strong it is. And that’s the scene where Hiccup attempt to talk toothless out of his trance-like state that Drago and his Alpha have put him in.
Diogo said it was impossible. Valka said it was impossible, but it happened. Hiccup was able to talk Toothless out of his trance and challenge the Alpha. Just. Wow. THAT explains how strong their relationship is, and you believe it because of everything else that has happened in this movie and the previous one.
These characters, on the whole, are amazing. Do they fulfill the three things that I believe sequels should touch on?
1. continue the relationships set up in the first movie? Yes, all in realistic, better, and continuously believable ways.
2. continue to give good side characters their spot, we learn more about them and even grow to consider them as important as the main characters? They did this hit or miss. You certainly learn more about Astrid and Stoick, whereas I would argue the others retain their “comedic” undertones from the first movie. Still enjoyable.
3. introduce a FEW good, new characters with the same quality as the original characters? Yes. Love Eret and Valka, Drago is meh, but better than the first movie’s strange Red Death dragon.
Ok, so I’m not going to do a synopsis of the storyline, but what do I think of the story overall? does this storyline do what sequels SHOULD do? more importantly, what is that, really?
A sequel shouldn’t just be another story with the same characters. I really believe it should be a continuation. There should be an overarching story between all the volumes. Whether conceived before the first movie/book came out or decided upon after seeing how successful the first movie/book was, both can be executed well if the storytellers remember there is ONE story to tell.
I already mentioned how Dean DeBlois has said in interviews that he looked to Empire Strikes Back when he conceived the rest of this storyline. So for all intensive purposes, let’s look at this story with that aspect in mind. Empire might be one of THE BEST SEQUELS of all time, but why? And did DeBlois actually use it to inspire him? Let’s look at a few key points.
- We’ve already talked about characters, but it’s worth mentioning in here that this movie, like Empire, really kept to its same core characters while introducing a few (not numerous) new ones, and hey, we even have a parent reveal in both. hah.
- Part of what makes Empire so great is it’s 3 acts: Good guys win, good guys lose, good guys win again. Does this follow that?
- Are the storylines hard to follow? Are there any that are extraneous, or are they all needed?
Let’s look at #2, because this is an interesting one. You would think at first glance that How to Train Your Dragon 2 does not follow this outline AT ALL. I mean, come on, the bad guy is defeated, the dragons are freed, Hiccup is Chief, Toothless is Alpha, how is that following the outline put forth in #2 at all??
It’s not. I would have said that all the way up until writing this. Then I thought about it more and I realized something: This movie wouldn’t even have happened if Hiccup hadn’t insisted that he go talk to Drago and “fix” this whole thing. Drago might have never found Berk, or at least it might have been years before he floated that way. He seemed surprised at the mention of the place, like there was nothing worth anything there. If Hiccup hadn’t gone off, his father would have never died.
This whole movie is about Hiccup making mistakes. If he hadn’t done what he did, Berk would still be hidden and safe, unknown to any of the dragon trappers or hunters out there. By doing what he did, he put Berk on the map. He made them a target. Even though they defeated Drago, he still lost. He lost his father, he lost the innocence of childhood, and he was disillusioned to a whole heck of a lot, like you can’t change everyone. He and Berk Lost.
But you can’t do that in a kids movie, so let’s make it all happy in the end. yay!
Alright, now when it comes to my point #3 about extraneous storylines, this one is quick: no, there aren’t any extraneous storylines. You’re really only following two, and for a short time three storylines: one with Hiccup and Toothless and then Valka, one with Astrid and the gang and Eret, and for a short while you have Stoick and Gobber searching after Hiccup. Nothing is hard to follow. It’s all needed, and it all brings about different aspects of the story leading to the climax very well. Something these movies is very good at is giving its viewers information in a subtle way and having it pay off in the end (babies aren’t controlled by the alpha, every dragon has its secrets, etc). There is nothing in this movie that is fluff. Except maybe Ruffnut pining over Eret.
All in all, great story for a sequel. Not just another romp with the same characters. In this one, they have things to lose, and they do.
To finish up some last technical bits of this review, I want to talk about the animation, score, and just stupid small things that I notice, because it’s fun.
I’ve always enjoyed the style that dreamworks picked for this series. It’s realistic to the point that you think that this really could have taken place in the world we live in, but cartoon-y enough to appeal to everyone. The backgrounds expand with this one to different islands, snow, ice, etc. and it’s well done.
The dragons, including the new additions, are well designed. I love cloudjumpers look with his four wings and his owl-like face. The Alphas are beautiful, and the other newer dragons are all so unique that i can only assume all the animators had a blast designing these guys.
In terms of the music and the score, there are only a few movies that I watch where I get the score stuck in my head for weeks upon end, and both the first movie in this series and this movie are some of them. The score is beautifully written and matches the action and fun and intensity that this movie can have. It can help make us cry when they’re sending Stoick out on his ship, and make us root for Toothless when he’s flying among the clouds.
Final Thoughts that don’t belong anywhere else
- I would watch a sitcom with Stoick, Valka, Hiccup, Gobber, and the two dragons. That would be some hilarious stuff right there.
- I still don’t understand why both Fishlegs and Snotlout were going after Ruffnut. Are pickings really that slim on Berk?
- It’s hard to watch this movie after watching Netflix’s Race to the Edge because while that show did an amazing job tying in some things, there is just so much more that doesn’t make sense!!
All in all, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is one helluva ride. I enjoyed it more than the first one, and it’s one of those movies I could watch over and over again without getting sick of it. It’s not just a great sequel, it’s a great movie.
I give How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) a 4.8 out of 5. Solid entertainment.
Up Next: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)*
Note: I’m going to see Hidden World tomorrow 3 weeks early! Will try to get a review of that one up as soon as I can!!!