IN THEATERS – How To Train Your Dragon 2

indexHow to Train Your Dragon (2010; Dir.: Dean DeBlois and Chris Knight)

GRADE: B

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014; Dir.: Dean DeBlois)

GRADE: C+

By Daniel Barnes

Perhaps it is unfair to hold a film sequel up to the light of its predecessor, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 fairly groans with the strain of stretching a cute concept too far. In attempting to meet and outdo the 2010 DreamWorks animated original, this more perfunctory franchise extender only accentuates the first film’s charms, and highlights the difficulty in doing it right even once.

The decreased stakes are announced from the first scene, a virtual replay of the opening from How to Train Your Dragon, as swooping shots of the seaside Viking village of Berk are undercut by Jay Baruchel’s sardonic introductory narration. But where the first film opened with a fleet dragons attacking the village, establishing clear conflicts and setting up multiple character dynamics, the sequel opens with a whizzing “dragon race” that features incomprehensible rules and no recognizable risks or rewards. This sequence is visually impressive but largely pointless, a dynamic not unexpected for a film that favors world-building and family tree expansion over character-building and narrative momentum.

indexBaruchel returns to voice the gawky Hiccup, who despite losing his leg at the end of the first film, remains as plucky, misunderstood, and deeply closeted (I mean, seriously…) as ever. While his imposing father Stoick (Gerard Butler again) wants his son to take over leadership of the village, Hiccup is more interested in exploring the far reaches of the earth with his faithful dragon Toothless. It is on one of these solo journeys that Hiccup encounters tattooed hunters who are faithful to a dragon army-assembling baddie named Drago, as well as a mysterious dragon protector who holds a not-very-shocking-at-all family secret.

Djimon Hounsou voices the evil Drago, a battle-scarred heavy who seeks to rid the world of dragons…or rid the world of humans using dragons…or both…or neither…like I said, it’s not a particularly well-written film. Hounsou does some fantastic bellowing here, but it’s more than a little distasteful that the only non-white person in this fantasy universe is a swarthy, dreadlocked villain intent on mass annihilation. Some will argue that it would not be “realistic” to have non-white Vikings in the film; to that I can only reply that these are actually Scottish Vikings who ride rainbow-colored, two-headed dragons, so you can do whatever the hell you want. How to Train Your Dragon 2 does just enough to make its money, and nothing more.