Sunday, June 15, 2014

Theatrical Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Date: June 15, 2014
Location: Pocono Movieplex
Time: 11:30 am
Party: 2 (my sister & I)

Writer/Director: Dean DeBlois
Based on the book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell

Duration: 102 minutes (+3 trailers)

Hiccup- Jay Baruchel
Stoick- Gerard Butler
Valka- Cate Blanchett
Astrid- America Ferrera
Snotlout- Jonah Hill
Fishlegs- Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Tuffnut- T.J. Miller
Ruffnut- Kristen Wiig
Gobber- Craig Ferguson
Eret- Kit Harington
Drago- Djimon Hounsou


The marquee to our theater had this movie's title and "Maleficent." Based on the first trailer, I was a little afraid they were showing the wrong movie.

Basically, it was a teaser trailer for next year's live-action "Cinderella," a black screen that rotated around a glass slipper. I don't know much about it, but I'm already excited about it much more than "Maleficent"... I'm not the biggest Angelina Jolie fan

The second looked like a pet project Guillermo de Toro had been working on for years. It was an animated film called "The Book of Life." His heritage was very much in play because it takes place in Spain, one scene had bullfighters involved and Zoe Saldana plays the female lead who's dressed like Carmen ala the opera of the same name.
The overall look of it reminded me a little bit of "Coraline," but with more textures, colors and patterns.

Then there was a Disney movie called "Big Hero 6" by the same people behind "Wreck-It Ralph" (still haven't seen it and still wanting to). It was a goofy teaser trailer where this kid conjured armor for his creature and has difficulty fitting the pieces over his large frame.



I figured we were due for another animated film my sister could enjoy. The box office has been going through a bit of a drought lately with nothing I'd really wanted to see.

As August approaches, I think that'll start to change.

It might not resonate with her in the long run as much as "The Lego Movie" did (which we'll most definitely get on DVD whenever possible), but we both enjoyed this movie a great deal.
So did the dozen or so other people in the theater with us. A lot of parents with kids, all younger than 12.

I feel bad going into this with little memory of the first movie, which I do remember enjoying quite a bit. I guess it would help to see the first movie before this one, but you won't be lost if this is the first time you're visiting the Nordic village of Berk.

Word Travels Fast

Going into it, I've heard a couple things about it. I've heard a lot of good things said about it. One trailer said it was "Braver than Brave and more fun than Frozen"... Loved both movies and I'll give them the first thing, but not the second.
[Brings me back to the "Captain America" trailer that claimed it was better than "The Avengers"... uh, no..]

I've also heard a couple negative things, few I paid attention to. One review I read compared the new sport of Berk to Quidditch... not that there's anything wrong with Quidditch, but I understand where the comparison came from.

Then I heard a rumored "traumatic" scene that drew comparisons to Bambi's mom getting shot... if the scene is what I think it is, it doesn't come until maybe the 90 minute mark*, just before the final battle scene. I can see why it might be rough for some people, but it isn't tragic to that nth degree.

Either way, it astounds me that this movie only raked in $50 million, $10mill shy of the #1 spot, "22 Jump Street."
How "22 Jump Street" is drawing such an audience is beyond me, although I haven't seen any of the series or the previous film. But you'd think with this movie being in 3D that'd give them more of a boost.

Speaking from an objective POV, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" was really well done.


We return to the island village of Berk 5 years after the previous film... which came out in 2010 (eh, I'll let that slide).
We enter in the middle of an action scene that happens to be their version of Quidditch. Riding dragons, the kids have to carry a sheep into their particular goal and there's plenty of roughhousing along the way. Then there's a black sheep that's worth an extra amount of points and could turn the tide (kinda like their Golden Snitch).
However, the only kid missing from the action is Hiccup, who is busy chartering more outer territory with his best friend, Toothless. He also tries out his set of wings, which he uses a few times to glide solo.

Part of the storyline is your run-of-the-mill "coming of age" story.
The village leader, Stoicke, just asked Hiccup to take over for him and he's unsure if he could handle the responsibility. Between his small build and his demeanor, it's understandable why he doesn't want the job.

While exploring with Astrid, they come upon dragon trappers, who tell them about their leader, Drago, who wants to take over the world with his dragon army.
As it turns out, Stoicke had met Drago before. We see a flashback where Drago proposes his dragon army idea to the other leaders and massacres them by dragon fire when they don't agree with him.

Stoicke decides to put the village on lockdown, but Hiccup believes he can convince Drago to change his mind... a naïve notion, yes, but that's exactly what he does.
His plan is not without its snags. Firstly, his big idea is surrendering to the dragon trappers so they'll take him to their leader. Secondly, his friends show up to rescue him and fowl everything up. Then Hiccup and Toothless run into a bit of trouble... or so it seems that way at first.

They get kidnapped by, as it turns out, Hiccup's believed-to-be-dead mother Valka who explains her 20 year absence and shows them the Dragon Paradise where she'd been living. Then Stoicke tracks them down and we have a touching reunion between him and Valka.

After that, conflict erupts when Drago arrives, overthrows the alpha dragon with a larger one of his own and spellbinds the remaining dragons to attack Berk.*

Everything turns all right in the end, but there are a bunch of great twists and turns I don't want to give away. Let's just say that the pay-off we get at the end: such a great ending 8-)

Cast and Characters

I was saddened when I read that Jay Baruchel was retiring from acting. With the exception of "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" (he's just not cut out to be anything but a good guy), I've loved him in every movie. But I always knew I had this sequel to look forward to.
As was the case with the original, nobody else could play Hiccup to be the loveable young Viking we know him to be. Such an endearing underdog of a character we can't help but want to see do well.

Actually, for the first half hour of the movie, it was hard for me to watch this movie and not think about the all-star cast. I only remembered the first four names off the cast list, but I could picture the actors while listening to their voices. As much as I enjoy that, I also like to be lost in the illusion of animation.
After the first half hour, I became immersed in this fantastic world and forget about the actors...

...with the exception of one moment with Gerard Butler as Stoicke.
Now there's another of those "where the heck has he been?" names. Looking over his resume, a couple movies ring bells: Olympus has Fallen, Playing for Keeps, Chasing Mavericks... nothing I've seen or wanted to see or did well in general.

We hear his native Scottish accent in full force here, a great asset to this franchise.
He's one of few foreign actors I've encountered who got to KEEP their accents in their roles. (yet why is it that Robert Pattinson, Alex Pettyfer and Theo James had to go "American" for their roles? doesn't seem fair to me)

But I digress... there's a sweet scene where Stoicke serenades Valka with song to talk her into coming home with them. Even more sweet for me because I hadn't heard Gerard Butler sing since "The Phantom of the Opera"

Overall, the cast was great throughout this movie.

No matter what she does, Cate Blanchett always does well and having her in animation was a nice change of pace.

Djimon Housou, who I remember most from his compelling "Amistad" performance, made an already intimidating villain even more so. Plus the dude was drawn so ugly that you needed just the right voice to pull everything together.

Kit Harington plays the lead dragon trapper, Eret.
If my mom was around, she would have jumped for joy because he's a "Game of Thrones" actor. I don't know much about him, so I spent part of the movie thinking maybe Eret was played by Orlando Bloom. Either way, a really good looking guy with a hot accent.

This movie was not short on comedic relief and it provided great balance with all the dramatic and sentimental bits in between. One running joke that got laughs out of us and the audience was the way Ruffnut (the twin voiced by Kristen Wiig, who I did not recognize at all) fawned over him and his muscles.
Even animated, the dude was good looking. I also loved how, later on, he has a change of heart and allies with the good guys.

Jonah Hill is another voice easy to recognize and begs the question if it's fair that he has two movies coming out the same weekend. Whether he has a leading role or not is not the point :-P it's just a pet peeve of mine because that kind of thing never happens with actors and actresses I personally invest in.

Animation and Story

However good the reviews said this movie was in 3D (DreamWorks actually does it pretty well), we saw it in 2D just because it was cheaper and it was the earlier showing (did not want to deal with the parking situation later in the day).

There are definitely a lot of high-flying moments that lend themselves well to 3D. Anytime we fly around with the dragons is an exhilarating experience. Loved it.
I had a jaw-dropping moment when we arrived in Dragon Paradise because everything was so vibrant and so beautifully rendered. Maybe not the same degree as "Avatar," but in the back of my mind, I thought how I'd love to live there.

Also in the back of my head, I had that little voice warning me how good things won't last forever. The movie does get dark in some places, especially when the new alpha dragon gets control over Toothless and temporarily sways his loyalty.

I don't know if it was my overall mindset or the balance of the script, but optimism always had a way of winning out. I felt a reassurance that everything would be okay in the end and I was not disappointed.

Grade: A

-I don't think I can say anything bad about this movie. In any aspect, it did really well and as a sequel, it did justice to the original and stood on its own really well. Not many sequels, live-action OR animated, can say that.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Good review Jackie. It was a very emotional and grown-up film, that it made it slightly better than the first. However, they're both pretty fantastic in their own rights.