How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a fantastic sequel and phenomenal film in its own right. The Empire Strikes Back of its series, it’s the absolute best picture by DreamWorks Animation (tied with the original, of course!). It does everything that a classic sequel should do – it develops the old familiar faces and themes, introduces new ideas and expands the world that they live in. It also tells a self-contained story with most loose ends tied up by its spectacular conclusion, but still leaves you in eager anticipation for what stories await.
It’s the little things too – the mere fact that How to Train Your Dragon 2 actually ages its characters rather than simply sticking with the young’uns. Indeed, what could have been a cookie-cutter follow-up takes refreshing risks and challenges its audience’s expectations.
Let’s not forget that main character Hiccup – incoming spoilers for those who haven’t seen the first film! – was permanently maimed at the end of the previous movie. How to Train Your Dragon 2 cements a tradition of throwing such harsh hits of reality into the story. Forget Pixar and Toy Story 3’s furnace scene, How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesn’t shy from going dark places and showing us that actions have consequences.
The story starts about five years after the defeat of the gigantic Red Death dragon in How to Train Your Dragon, which was the catalyst for the Vikings of Berk making peace with dragonkind. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is now exploring the open world on the back of his Night Fury dragon Toothless, and in so doing discovers that there’s a dangerous tyrant named Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) who’s enslaving dragons to conquer the world.
In his travels Hiccup also discovers a frozen sanctuary for dragons, large and small. This sanctuary is protected by an enigmatic vigilante that Hiccup is shocked to learn is his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), who he and his father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), believed to have been killed. It’s an emotional reunion and just one of the film’s many moments that succeeds in hitting its mark.
The animation and artistry is superb too. Make sure you see the movie in 3D if you can – the first How to Train Your Dragon is still the best 3D movie I’ve seen but the sequel is just about the next best thing. The flying sequences are particularly breathtaking. Combined with John Powell’s epic and sweeping score, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is poetry in motion. That it has a heart-warming and heart-wrenching story that ups the ante in every respect is icing on the cake. The bar was already set high but writer-director Dean DeBlois effortlessly blasts past it at each and every turn – How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a masterpiece.