When “How to Train Your Dragon” was released back in 2010, it was praised by audiences and critics as one of the best animated films in years, making it inevitable that a sequel would follow. However, such a thing is easier said than done. The original is an incredibly tough act to follow with its heartfelt and exciting story, along with some beautiful animation, but still writer/director Dean DeBlois (co-writer/co-director of the original) has dared to do the impossible by presenting us with “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which picks up five years after the events of the first film.
Things have become quite peaceful since the people of Berk became friends with the dragons that they used to hunt. Hiccup (Voice of Jay Baruchel) now uses much of his time exploring the world with his Night Fury dragon, Toothless, charting every new island that they discover. On one of these outings, he and his girlfriend Astrid (Voice of America Ferrera) encounter a group of dragon catchers led by Eret (Voice of Kit Harington), who are collecting dragons for their master, Drago Bloodfist (Voice of Djimon Hounsou). However, our young heroes and their dragon pals are too quick for these would-be kidnapers, allowing them to escape back to Berk.
Once they are safely home, Hiccup informs his father, Stoic (Voice of Gerard Butler), of what happened, causing him to heighten the city’s defenses. Apparently Stoic encountered Drago years ago in an incident that left many dead, so he’s not willing to take any chances. Even so, Hiccup believes that he can be reasoned with, leading him to undertake an extremely dangerous mission for the sake of saving his home.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is a sequel that will inevitably be compared with its predecessor, and while it doesn’t reach the level of that original film, it still acts as a decent continuation of the story. Looking back to that first film, my only real issue with it was the drawn-out fight at the end, but with the sequel, there are a few more issues that are present, preventing it from having as big an impact as the filmmakers would have hoped.
The story here is enough to carry the film, but unfortunately in the middle act, it hits a bit of a slump when a new character is introduced (one that I won’t name due to it being a spoiler). Hiccup spends much of his time getting to know this character in scenes that are supposed to be part of the film’s emotional core, but they end up not hitting as hard as what had worked so well as the emotional core in the original, that being the relationship Hiccup forms with Toothless and the trust that eventually develops between them.
With this being the heart of the second act, it’s no surprise that we go from here straight to the big battle finale, where we once again find a stretched-out melee of humans and dragons. There’s still enough excitement here to make it worth your while, but it still leaves you with the wish that they had done something a little more with it, especially since we had a similar finale in the previous film.
Once again, we are treated to some beautiful animation that probably has gorgeous and bright colors when presented properly, but unfortunately this screening of the film was in 3-D, which merely dulls everything down to a much darker picture. It still baffles me to this day as to why any filmmaker would want their film shown in such a terrible manner, especially when the 3-D is practically nonexistent. All this is to say once more, as I so often find myself having to say, that you should see the film in 2-D and relish in all of the hard work the animators put into it.
While “How to Train Your Dragon 2” has its share of issues, it’s still a fun and entertaining return to the characters we’ve come to know and love. It’s something of a miracle that the film turned out this well given that there aren’t really many more places that the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless can go, something that probably forced DeBlois to integrate the “new character” I mentioned earlier. Hopefully next time there will be a few changes made so that the emotional impact will be just as powerful as it was the first time around, in addition to an ending that isn’t just a big battle. With a little effort, the next sequel could have the franchise flying high once more, instead of merely skimming along the water. 3/4 stars.
Starts everywhere in theaters tonight.
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