By NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
The story line of the animated sequel, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” resumes five years after the precursor ended.
Just to remind you, since the film doesn’t, the original had Vikings on the island of Berk constantly battling against fire-breathing, flying dragons, who raid their village. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) was a hapless adolescent devoid of any skills as a warrior. That would be an uncomfortable situation for any young male, living within a Viking society.
However, to make matters worse, Hiccup’s father is Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), the chieftain and most macho member of the tribe. Recognizing Hiccup’s abject ineptitude, Stoick bars him from joining the Vikings as they fight the dragons. Undaunted, Hiccup invents a contraption, which enables him to capture a night fury dragon on his own. Instead of slaying the dragon, he befriends it and names him Toothless. Together, the two put an end to the ongoing conflicts between the villagers and their one-time enemies.
As the sequel opens, the dragons and humans are coexisting in harmony. Indeed, the dragons are pampered by the villagers, who pride them with customized stalls and all you can eat feeding stations.
Once a maladroit adolescent, Hiccup has matured into a full-fledged adult. Despite his high-pitched, warbly voice, he is now treated with deference. Indeed, in a dramatic about face, Stoick now wants Hiccup to succeed him as village chieftain. However, Hiccup rebuffs his father’s expectations. Hiccup has an attractive blond girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera). She unconditionally supports Hiccup’s efforts to pursue his self-defined dreams.
Hiccup is on one of his jaunts, flying aboard Toothless. Suddenly, Toothless is captured by a group of mercenary dragon hunters, under the supervision of Eret, son of Eret, (Kit Harington, from HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). Hiccup confronts Eret and demands the return of his pet dragon. However, Eret scoffs at the suggestion and refuses to capitulate to the puny lad.
Moreover, Eret advises Hiccup that someone has released their captured dragons and destroyed their fortress, turning it into shards of green ice. Eret insists that it must have been at Stoick’s behest. Hiccup tries to disabuse Eret of the misperception without success. Ultimately, Hiccup’s peers, Astrid, Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Tuffnutt (T.J. Miller), and her twin sister Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) fly to the rescue.
As the story unfolds, we learn that the dragons were actually emancipated by a compassionate renegade, named Valka (Cate Blanchett). Through some clumsy expository dialogue, we learn her back story. It proves an inappropriate component for a film, which is being targeted for young children.
The evil Draco Bludvist (throughout the film, I actually thought that the character’s surname was Bloodfist) is trying to build an army of dragons and subjugate humankind. As menacingly voiced by Djimon Hansou, this is one scary dude.
This film is inspired by the fantasy world described in the book series by Cressida Cowell. However, director/screenwriter, Dean DeBlois, has taken serious liberties with the source material to the film’s detriment.
Since “How to Train Your Dragon,” grossed more than $495 million worldwide, a sequel was inevitable. However, was it really inevitable that the sequel kick off without any recapitulation of the original’s salient plot elements? This decision presupposes that the viewer has seen and can still remember them from a film that was released in 2010. That constitutes a dubious narrative technique.
Parents should be forewarned that “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is considerably darker in tone than the original lighthearted room. It seems to have abandoned its prior audience in favor of courting a tween’s sensibility. For instance, in the precursor, Hiccup sustains an injury and thereafter requires a peg leg to ambulate. Here, the story line involves the actual death of a key character. Younger children may feel further threatened by a subplot, which involves the intense acrimony between Hiccup’s parents and his mother’s resultant abandonment of the young boy. This film is an ill-considered choice for most preschoolers to attend.
Moreover, the film is far more structurally convoluted and conceptually abstruse than the first installment. Even adults may struggle unsuccessfully to grasp certain plot conceits. What makes Draco such a megalomaniacal meanie? What is the source of Draco’s power over his ferocious alpha dragon? The film boasts a talented team of illustrators. The visuals are often arresting and these will enchant some children. However, for others, the screenplay for “How to Train Your Pet Dragon 2” will prove excessively challenging, both emotionally and conceptually.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
** ½ PG (for adventure action and some mild rude humor) 101 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.