Monday, July 7, 2014
Movie Review: "How To Train Your Dragon 2" (2014)
Sometimes, a great film lies in the little details. The small, sometimes insignificant pieces, that when on their own don't add up to much. But when you put them all together, you suddenly realize all of the time and craft put into developing the world of the movie and making it fully fleshed out.
One such film is "How To Train Your Dragon." On the surface, it is a by-the-numbers animated film with some impressive 3D effects and a cliched story. But then you realize how each dragon moves and acts differently from any other creature. They all have their own strengths, weaknesses and personalities, and all without ever hearing these dragons speak a word of dialogue.
It also helps that the film never once relied on pop culture references, like so many other animated films restort to these days, especially other Dreamworks films. Nothing dates your film more than a Honey Bobo reference or trying so hard to be like the Genie from "Aladdin," the granddaddy of animated pop culture references.
Yet the strength of "How To Train Your Dragon" lied in how developed its world was. This mythological hole-in-the-wall where dragons have been attacking Vikings for generations, yet now they learn to tame and befriend these beasts to learn that everything they knew about them was wrong.
Its recent sequel, "How To Train Your Dragon 2," follows up on the story of its main characters, but seems to miss other aspects that leave the audience wanting more.
In the far off land of Berk, a land of Vikings, dragons have now been living there comfortably for five years, with each citizen now having their own dragon. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has now become the dragon rider master of Berk, alongside his own dragon, Toothless, and constantly goes out to explore the surrounding land to locate new types of dragons.
But when dragon raiders show up to capture Toothless, Hiccup finds out about the mysterious Drago Bludvist, who intends to enslave every dragon and conquer the world through fear and fire. Now it is up to Hiccup and his father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), to stop Drago before he gets to Berk, while also finding some help a cloaked figure who seems to understand all dragons.
The animation in this film was stunning, to say the least. It captured the breath-taking visuals of the flying sequences in the first film, but it seemed to work even harder on simple things, like facial emotions. I don't know what they did, but the emotions on so many characters faces were so distinct and poured out that I could tell exactly what they were thinking.
There's a scene where Hiccup discovers who the cloaked figure is, and the look of initial shock slowly turns to excitement and happiness and then back to sadness. All without saying a word, I can tell what Hiccup is going through. We connect with him through our emotions alone, something quite rare for animated films.
That being said, the film is so wrapped up in the story that it has no time to develop the world around it. In the last film, we had only a handful of different types of dragons, but we got a distinct flavor of how each one worked. In "How To Train Your Dragon 2," we are introduced to countless new dragons, yet we learn nothing about them.
The cloaked figure, for example, has a four-winged dragon that has multiple scars on it, but we get nothing more than that. There is clearly a story to her behemoth but they leave us empty-handed.
The only characters in "How To Train Your Dragon 2" who get any sort of development are Hiccup, Stoick, Drago, the cloaked figure and Hiccup's girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera), sort of. Everyone else is there to be comic relief or a weak romantic subplot that doesn't go anywhere.
It is "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2" all over again.
Now don't get me wrong, the story in "How To Train Your Dragon 2" is just fine. It is handled nicely and serves as a great development for Hiccup, where he must be the bridge between the worlds of savage Vikings and animalistic dragons.
But like the first film, the story is not the main draw for "How To Train Your Dragon 2." The far more interesting aspects were the world, its varying cast of bumbling young vikings and the sprawling landscapes during the flying sequences.
The story may serve its purpose, but everything else seems lacking. While the flying scenes are still majestic, we only get glimpses of the world outside of Berk and the cast is forgotten in favor of story.
Then again, it is a give-and-take. We lose the world of dragons and vikings in favor of a story about combining the two worlds. In the end, that is not a bad tradeoff, yet it does leave me wanting more out of the film.
Final Grade: B-