WARNING: There be spoilers ahead.
So here is something you probably guessed about me over the last year and a half since we started doing these reviews: I have a teeny-tiny obsession with dragons. That’s partly why I love The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter books, and even Game of Thrones so much. It’s a bit ridiculous how much I love them, really, because there’s actually a small part of me that honestly believes they’re alive out there in the world right now (don’t judge; if you were as awesome as me, you’d believe it, too).
I loved How to Train Your Dragon. It was everything I ever wanted out of a movie and never knew I needed, which was why I saw it in theatres seven or eight times. It was harsh, daring, heartbreaking, mesmerizing, sobering, exhilarating. It’s in my top three movies, right up there with Tangled and Frozen. (And no, I don’t mean my favourite animated movies; I mean my favourite movies ever. Yeah. I’m that kind of person.)
And that’s why I got so ridiculously excited the first time I saw this.
In How to Train Your Dragon 2, the sea-swept town of Berk has changed over the last five years. Everyone has a dragon now. The original team — Hiccup, Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, Ruffnut, and Tuffnut — is all grown up and exploring the world on the backs of dragons. Even Stoick, Hiccup’s hardass dad, has come to accept dragons and has one of his own. But even while everything seems great, Hiccup is struggling to cope with his dad’s expectations and his role as the chief-in-training.
Somewhere close by, the brutal Drago Bludvist is amassing an army of dragons and preparing to go to war on the dragon riders. Hiccup stumbles across a mysterious dragon master who turns out to be his presumed-dead mother, Valka (I’d say spoilers, but the trailer already did that). She’s been living with wild dragons, including one big-ass alpha, all this time. And there’s a touching reunion between Stoick and Valka, who still love each other after twenty years apart, because old people love is adorable.
Then Drago attacks, and his own alpha dragon takes mental control of all the wild dragons — and Toothless. He turns on Hiccup, but Stoick is killed instead. Although he’s initially beyond furious at Toothless, Hiccup manages to connect with his dragon, break the alpha’s hold, and defeat Drago while Toothless takes on the alpha and becomes the new leader of the dragon pack. Together he and Hiccup prepare to lead their respective races in harmony and wisdom, side by side as friends like they’ve always been.
As much as I anticipated this movie, there were a few things about the plot that rubbed me the wrong way. The whole “alpha dragon” thing was kinda weird, and I think it served as more of a metaphor for Hiccup accepting his role as chief, especially since he and Toothless turn out to be the same age. I mean, the giant dragons were wicked cool, but they were built up to be all mystical and all-knowing or something, and for some reason I just hated that. Or maybe it’s just that Twilight has forever ruined the word “alpha” for me. And not even Alan Tudyk can bring it back.
I also didn’t like seeing everyone with dragons. They are strong and majestic creatures and most of them are being kept as pets. I’m trying to think of a better reason for why it bothers me apart from “Hiccup was doing it before it was cool,” because apparently I’m a hipster now, but seriously, everyone has them. I don’t think they have nearly the same connection as Hiccup and Toothless have, or even the same as the other teens and their dragons have. They’re not pets. I know Hiccup called them pets at the end of the first movie, but I didn’t like that, either. They’re equals, in my opinion, and I don’t like seeing them be glorified dogs or housecats.
At the relatively young age of 20, Hiccup is really coming into his own as a young adult. I mean really coming into his own. I don’t even know how to handle this because I haven’t been this attracted to an animated character since Jim and Tim Possible in A Sitch in Time.
With the help of his best friend Toothless, Hiccup is exploring the world and mapping it out. He’s actually got some pretty sweet cartography skills, but I guess we always knew he was a bit of an artist. That being said, he’s not doing so well with the whole “I’m gonna be chief someday” thing. He may be an adult, but he’s still running around playing with dragons and building cool new stuff while there’s chiefing to be done.
Then he finds his mother and discovers where he gets all the traits that made him so different when he was young: sharp intelligence, dark hair and a small build, a deep connection with dragons, and more than a little disregard for the rules and the way things are done. But even after that, it still takes the death of his father to make him realize that his responsibility isn’t just to the dragons: it’s to the people who rejected him when he was just a weird, gangly little kid and who now look up to him.
There’s a pretty great message about growing up and discovering who you are and who you’re supposed to be, but there’s an even better one that was so subtle I almost missed it. And I think that was the point. See, Hiccup is also doing really well with his foot prosthetic. I was actually surprised when he pointed it out to his mother (who was actually pretty cool with the fact that her little boy only had one leg), because even though he was on the screen literally almost the entire time, I kept forgetting he had it.
And that’s an amazing message for kids who might have physical handicaps: that no matter what life throws your way, you can be a hero, too. That’s a really unusual message in popular films. I remember being shocked in the first movie because I had never seen such a brutal injury to a child character in an animated movie before. In most live action films, when someone loses a limb the writers make it a tragic story or focus really heavily on the loss.
In Hiccup’s case, yeah, he lost his foot and that sucks. But life goes on and he made the best of it. He made a kickass prosthetic leg and he’s doing really well with it. And you don’t even think about the fact that he only has one leg because even though that would be a huge character-defining trait for any other fictional person, Hiccup has so many other amazing things to define him that he doesn’t let it get him down. So for a little kid who might be sitting in a wheelchair and wishing they could ride a dragon, I bet they found Hiccup pretty inspiring.
I love how the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless has progressed. The movie isn’t about training a dragon anymore; it’s about the solid friendship between two young guys who happen to come from different species. In the first film, Hiccup and Toothless were a couple of broken characters who filled in the other’s gaps. Both of them were alone and came to lose part of themselves, but when they were together, they were whole. Now the relationship has strengthened into something even more profound: they’re best friends and they know each other completely, which is why it kills Hiccup to see his friend’s will taken away from him.
Toothless is much the same as he was at the end of the first movie, but he too has to learn about the burden of leadership. He goes through the same traumatic experience that Hiccup does, but he has the misfortune to be on the giving end: controlled by the alpha dragon, Toothless kills Stoick and doesn’t understand why or how he did it when he comes back to himself. And that moment eerily echoes Stoick’s own realization from the first movie when he thinks he’s lost Hiccup: “I did this.”
That’s hard to see for a character like him. He was the first dragon to connect with a human — in Berk, anyway — which I think was probably because he was a Night Fury, the last of his kind, completely alone even in a crowd. When he bonded with Hiccup, it was because he was unique: he had a spark of life, an independent streak, something odd about him that made him understand those who were different from him. And when he loses that, he becomes a wild animal, which is quite possibly the worst thing imaginable.
That connection with Hiccup is the reason why he takes on the alpha dragon and becomes the new one. He wants to protect his people, and that doesn’t mean just the ones with wings. He has the strength of character to stand up for what’s important, even if it means risking his own life, and that in turn gives Hiccup the strength he needs to become the leader of his people, too. So in the end, the two of them are still doing exactly what they did in the first movie, but on a deeper level: they’re still filling in each other’s gaps and forming two parts of a whole.
The other kids are a bit weird. That love triangle between Ruffnot, Snotlout, and Fishlegs is pretty dang strange, although I guess with the only other teenage girl in town (Astrid) being taken, Ruffnut’s kinda the only available choice for the young and lustful teenage boys. And I guess the choices of boys are pretty limited, too, seeing as the only other boy is her twin brother, and that Lannister sh*t don’t fly here. So maybe it’s not that surprising that she falls hard for Eret the dragon catcher (especially since he’s voiced by Kit Harington).
All that I can live with, but what REALLY grinds my gears is Astrid. In the first movie she was a strong and independent character who was trying to prove herself and live up to her parents’ expectations while at the same time trying to adjust to a rapidly shifting world. In this movie, she’s the dutiful and supportive girlfriend.
Don’t get me wrong, you can totally be a strong and independent person and in a great relationship at the same time, but Astrid doesn’t seem capable of such complex character structure. Apart from being like, “Shut up, Stoick, we have to save Hiccup because he’s probably in trouble again, because boys, amirite,” there’s no character development of her own. She’s just kind of there to call Hiccup “babe” (weird) and make it super clear that Hiccup is in a serious relationship.
It’s a bit frustrating because Stoick calls her his future daughter-in-law, which further serves to underscore the whole serious relationship thing, but we get it. They’re still dating. That’s peachy-keen. It’s nice that Hiccup got the girl and kept her. But can we please stop hammering their relationship into everything? This is not a movie about what a supportive girlfriend Astrid is. It’s about boys and all the shenanigans they get into. If there are no Astrid-shenanigans, she has no business hanging around. (And I really miss the Astrid-shenanigans.)
I guess it’s possible that Hiccup and Astrid’s relationship is supposed to be like a parallel or an inverse or whatever of Stoick and Valka’s relationship. Like how Stoick and Valka could’ve turned out if he hadn’t been so intolerant on the dragon issue. At any rate, it’s amazing to see them reconnect after 20 years apart. Because even though Valka left and was “selfish” to want to pursue what made her happy, Stoick doesn’t care why she did it. All he cares about is that she’s alive, because he’s been missing her all this time and he’s just as in love with her as ever.
It’s really nice to see that development in Stoick, because I think he might’ve been that same person when he first met Valka. I don’t think she’s the type to fall in love with the rough, brutish guy, and there was a sensitive guy in there who danced with her and made her feel loved. So over the last five years Stoick has really mellowed out and become the kind of man again that Valka would want to be with, even if his listening skills are still sub-par.
Which is why it’s so terrible that screenwriters can’t just let people be happy. It’s a curse of writers that we feel the need to ruin our characters’ lives (it’s why I don’t let my mom read my stories anymore). Valka has become strange and introverted after two decades with only dragons for company. So she’s a bit hesitant at first and really uncertain of herself. At first I was worried that she didn’t love Stoick anymore or didn’t want to be with him, but then she opened herself up and it was amazing.
I think the big reason that scene resonated with me, and probably with a lot of people, is that marriage doesn’t last anymore. We make a big deal about people who make it to their 50th anniversary because that’s seriously a huge accomplishment. So many people run into insurmountable differences or just plain throw in the towel, so we’re used to seeing marriages fall apart. But we’re not used to seeing people get back together, which makes it so profound when it does happen — even if that doesn’t last for dragon-related reasons.
Overall, I’d say this movie doesn’t have the same imagination and spark as the first one. It’s not as youthful, as gleeful, as daring, as reckless, or as spirited. But it’s a fine sequel to a great movie, and it didn’t disappoint. It showed the journey from boy to man. It showed the importance of strong relationships between people and how they can be used to overcome enormous obstacles. It contrasted maturity with childlike wonder and showed that, no matter how mature we might be required to be, there’s always a place for wonder.
And I think that’s why, even if it doesn’t quite measure up to How to Train Your Dragon, I still enjoyed this movie. When I sat down to watch it, I rediscovered what it means to be awed and amazed and spellbound by the world. I found my wonder, and I found out all over again why I love dragons so darn much.
Because dragons, that’s why.
FINAL GRADE: A-
- The animation was a lot shinier in this movie. For the most part it was pretty sick, but it was really weird for the older kids, especially Astrid. And that’s not just a “I don’t like how they look because they’re older” thing. It’s because now Astrid’s face looks just plain weird.
- I haven’t seen the TV show yet, but now I know that I DESPERATELY NEED TO.
- I suuuuuper dislike that the trailer spoiled the mom reveal. In case you missed that. I know there were certain other spoilers that they mercifully left out, but seriously, that one was huge and they just dropped it like a heap of dragon crap.
- There is no way in hell the breastplates/breast-hats from the first movie belonged to Valka. Because enormous.
- Wait, since when do fire swords make dragons respect you? WHERE DID THAT COME FROM.
- I liked the speech at the end of the movie because they did the same thing at the end of the first one, but this time Hiccup was yelling. Seriously, Hiccup, use your inside voice.
- Seriously, what was with Hiccup’s Anakin Skywalker braids?! THIS IS WHY GIRLS SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO TOUCH THEIR BOYFRIENDS’ HAIR.
- My predictions for the third movie (due out June 17, 2016, so mark your calendars [I already did]): Hiccup is about to get married to Astrid. Toothless doesn’t like it because he feels like he’s losing his best friend, and since he’s the last Night Fury, he can’t find his special someone. He runs off right before the wedding and discovers that there is, in fact, a female Night Fury out there. There’s some kind of conflict to their love, like she’s a prisoner of a vicious warlord or something (c’mon, no way Bludvist is dead; he fell into the water and the Joker survives that all the time) and she betrays him somehow. But eventually the two of them escape together, and they end up happy while Hiccup and Astrid get married. Both Hiccup and Toothless have kids, who are best friends right from the start just like their dads before them. You are my witness. This is gonna be a thing. That is all.