16 July 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Review

So this year is turning out to have one of the best summers for films in recent years. Every time I think I've seen the best big film, another one comes along that's even better, the most recent one being How To Train Your Dragon 2. Now I think How To Train Your Dragon is the best film that Dreamworks Animation has made, without the involvement of Aardman, so I had high hopes for the sequel. I am happy to say that not only were my expectations met, they were surpassed with How To Train Your Dragon 2 being one of the best animated sequels ever made.
The film takes place 5 years after the first film and Hiccup has been exploring the world with Toothless and the citizens of Berk have fully integrated with dragons. Whilst on one of his trips, Hiccup comes across dragon trappers working for Drago Bludvist, a conqueror who wants to control all the dragons in the world. Alongside this, Hiccup meets another dragon trainer, Valka, who is his mum, who was presumed to have died 20 years prior. Along with this is the fact that Stoick is about to step down as chief and wants Hiccup to succeed him and the fear Hiccup has that he will not be able to live up to Stoick. Now in a lesser film, there would be a big struggle for all of these plot elements to gain room to breath and develop and would result in one of them being underdeveloped, in this film though, all of them work brilliantly together and help add to the character development throughout the film, mainly of Hiccup finding his place and discovering who he is. The film also takes a stab at the debate between negotiation and war, with Hiccup wanting to negotiate with Drago to try and avoid war and Stoick wanting to hunker down Burk and prepare for war. The film takes the side that sometimes negotiation doesn't always work and there are times when war is an inevitability, which provides a big wake up call for Hiccup that he is still incredibly naive about the world and is a much darker, more adult message than we are used to from animated family films. I also really like the relationship between Hiccup and Valka, not just because it's incredibly rare for the main relationship in a film to be between a mother and son, but also that the conflict that could exist between Stoick and Valka over raising Hiccup doesn't happen, the film indicates that both of them are important for Hiccup, Stoick in his childhood and Valka in his adulthood and how, despite their different personalities, Stoick and Valka work perfectly with each other.

The performances meanwhile continue to be strong. Jay Baruchel shows the growth in Hiccup's character between the films through subtle changes in his voice and a lot of the humour he had in the first film is toned down a lot. Plus, the relationship he has with Astrid (America Ferrera) is really sweet without going over the top. I also like how Hiccup has handled his disability, with both him and Toothless being partially limbed but there isn't a big deal made out of it, it's just something that's part of Hiccup, which makes Hiccup a good character for the disabled community. Cate Blanchett meanwhile is great as Valka, bringing in this really sweet, gentle quality to the voice, indicating the care she has for Hiccup and dragons, but also letting you know that Valka isn't a character to mess with. The design of Valka is brilliant as well with the movements of Valka feeling really lizard-like, a sign of just how long she's lived with dragons. These films are also the only ones where I like Gerard Butler, his style of deliver really suits the character of Stoick, indicating his power, but he also shows his softer side with Hiccup and Valka, with the reintroduction of Valka adding more to his character. Djimon Hounsou meanwhile is a really intimidating villain as Drago. Initially, he comes across as a one note villain but by the end, we see a better character and a great inverse of Hiccup, indicating that Hiccup training Toothless could have gone wrong. The other major addition to the cast is Kit Harrington as Eret, at the start of the film, he brings across this great air of arrogance over his skills, but also a justified fear of Drago and, over the course of the film, Hiccup softens him up and he becomes a better person for learning to treat dragons as equals. There are some great comedic bits provided by America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kristen Wiig, although they don't get much to do in the film. Whilst it is still distracting that the adults speak with Scottish accents and the younger characters speak with American accents, it is something that can be overlooked.

On a technical aspect, the animation is incredible, topping that of the first film easily. The CG used for the design and the movements of all of the dragons is incredible, really highlighting the dog like nature of them whilst the animation for the human characters is incredibly expressive, further adding to their characters. The crowning achievement of the designs though are the designs for the Bewilderbeasts, with the animation highlighting the size whilst also showing off the power and age of them, which fully lets you know that these dragons are the Alpha ones before the film tells you. The action scenes meanwhile are really well handled with the takes being fairly long for this type of film and there being a clear sense of geography to everything. I also really like how the film utilises the abilities of all the dragons for the action scenes. The design of the environments is also incredible and the way the film utilises these in the flying sequences is incredible, creating some of the most visually beautiful stuff put in any animated film. The music meanwhile continues the strength of the first film, with all of the music beats of the film fitting each scene perfectly with the songs written for the film really fitting the tone of the film.

Overall, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is the best film that Dreamworks Animation has made. The plot and characters are really well written, the animation is incredible and the action scenes are really well directed. I wouldn't advise taking really young kids to see this as the Bewilderbeasts could scare them but I highly recommend this film to anyone else. This does what all good sequels do and advances the story and takes the series in a much more mature direction, indicating great things for How To Train Your Dragon 3.

My Rating: 5/5

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