Hmm… haven’t been pleased with this summer’s batch of sequels so far.
It’s not that I don’t like sequels. I put the entire Toy Story trilogy on my Great Movies list. I have absolutely no problems with sequels. I have problems with disappointing sequels.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not bad. In fact, it may be (objectively) one of DreamWorks’ better works. But the word that immediately comes to mind is disappointing, and rarely is such an emotion as poisonous in the veins of someone who loves movies, for someone who fell in love with How to Train Your Dragon. DreamWorks had every opportunity to convince me of their worth, and now, I’m beginning to think How to Train Your Dragon was a massive fluke. I will definitely not walk into the next DreamWorks movie with such high expectations. In actuality, I’m not planning on walking in to any DreamWorks movies in the near future. My DreamWorks boycott resumes.
Sorry. That was uncalled for. Just need to let out my rage a bit so I can give this movie a reasonable rating.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is clearly faced with a dilemma. How do you give your characters interesting stuff to do? Easy, said DreamWorks. They listed out all of the possibilities on a big white board, sat down, looked at each other, ate some donuts, and decided to do all of it. How to Train Your Dragon was about a forbidden friendship between Hiccup and Toothless. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is about having interesting stuff happen to their characters so that they don’t sit down on their butts for the entire movie.
Ironically, my favorite parts of the movie is when nothing interesting is happening to their characters. There’s a great scene in the beginning where Hiccup and Toothless are flying for the sake of flying. You know, something a normal dude would do if he had an awesome dragon like Toothless. It’s very natural, nothing is forced, and their relationship is precious. But then a lot of stuff happens. Clumsy flashbacks to fill in pieces of the exposition puzzle. Dialogue just to let the audience know what internal dilemma their characters are facing at any given moment. There’s a couple of scenes where characters just talk about their problems, waiting for something to happen to them. And what do you know, something does happen to them! And after this plot thread fuses out, people talk about their problems again. Yay! I’m having so much fun settling into this rhythmic, cyclic mode of storytelling.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 has the nasty habit of being jittery and always wanting to move the plot somewhere else. Just when it slumps nicely into a comfort zone, it fears boredom and yanks the plot in another direction. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is bad. There is actually a scene involving some singing, and I liked it enough to where I wished it was later incorporated between Hiccup and Astrid. I was really hoping for their romance to go somewhere, maybe when they get stuck together in some life-threatening situation, but such situation never arises, putting the entire purpose of their romance into question.
The father and son conflict returns again, but how that conflict resolves is easily the best part of the film. It’s emotional, it’s intense, it’s even beautiful, and it’s stuff like this that redeems this movie. Whereas in most DreamWorks movies I can’t tell whether they’re trying or not, I can tell How to Train Your Dragon 2 is trying. Hiccup is re-envisioned as this eccentric trickster who has expanded his training and gadgetry to himself and not just to dragons. In the process of doing so, Hiccup explores individualistic pursuits, something Toothless isn’t very good at. Deep down buried underneath the uninspired ending is Hiccup’s realization of how wonderful it is to find someone to fly with, because of how fragile such relationships can be. Deep down buried underneath this uninspired sequel is the heartbeat of its predecessor.
Final Grade: C- (71%)–Everything is bigger and louder, but the intricacies of great storytelling have been iced over.