Enter the dragons

Enter the dragons

Sequel lives up to its billing

By Tim Pompey 06/19/2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Directed by Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera
Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor
1 hr. 42 mins.

What is it about dragons? In whatever form they appear, whether books or movies, they always steal the show. Consider for instance Game of Thrones, The Hobbit and, of course, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise. After a five-year hiatus, Hiccup and the lovable villagers in Berk are back. A little older, a little less uptight, and having a lot more fun with their dragons. That’s good news for those of us who loved the original and may have been a little nervous about the sequel. I mean, how do you top a classic?

Well, for starters, you hire the same writer and director (Dean DeBlois, who ran the initial show), then bring back most of the original cast, and finally, design a plot twist in the middle that no one will see coming. Plus (duh) you add more dragons. And trust me, there are a lot of dragons in this movie.

As with any good sequel, you give up something to gain something. Since the initial bloom is long off the rose, a sequel has to offer a new slant that rejuvenates the audience and pulls them back in. In DeBlois’ case, he lessens the humor a bit and adds more family drama and adventure.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) the adult is being pressed by some tough choices. His thirst for freedom hasn’t been quenched, but his responsibilities to the tribe are creeping up on him. His father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), wants to pass on the torch, but Hiccup would rather fly around on his pet dragon Toothless and draw maps of unexplored lands.

Enter a new threat: Drago (Djimon Hounsou), a nasty warrior whose goal is to capture all dragons, bring them under his rule, and sack any village he can find. In this case, Berk just happens to be in his path. When Hiccup learns of this, he informs Stoick. Stoick in turn sounds a call to arms. Hiccup, however, disagrees with hastily going to war and sets out to negotiate some kind of peace arrangement with Drago. It doesn’t go quite as planned. These peace processes rarely do.

DeBlois is not interested in simply providing haphazard family entertainment à la Madagascar. He’s got bigger fish to fry. Influenced by his love for the Star Wars trilogy, he’s provided a step forward in the story in anticipation of a part three. In this case, he’s attempting to deepen the crisis in Hiccup’s own psyche — that tension he feels between the thrill of riding freely and the burden of being responsible for someone besides himself.

But he also seems to have deepened his artistic palette. There are moments in this film that are visually stunning, particularly the dragon hideaway, the revelation of the alpha dragon, and the final battle with Drago. He seems to have bought into the idea that animation is not just comic entertainment. It should have something to do with art. In the case of Dragon 2, he succeeds with that plan.

What’s equally intriguing is the development of Hiccup himself from young wanderer to peacemaker. From a boy living outside of his family to a man who makes a choice to be part of his village. This says something for the writing and the story’s progress. I get the sense that DeBlois brought his A game in order to add drama and make the arc of his films more intriguing. He’s not just entertaining. He’s shooting for a big finish.

Be patient with this film. When it opens, it feels like a singer finding the way back on stage after a long layoff. Rest assured it does eventually get going and the ending pays off. More important, it makes me look forward to another dragon quest. Keep your eyes on the skies, folks. Hiccup and dragons will be back. Can’t

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