How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Review first published by Film4

Synopsis: Dean DeBlois, co-writer and co-director of How To Train Your Dragon, flies solo with this more adult animated Viking adventure sequel.

Review: In the five years since the events of How To Train Your Dragon (2010), the island village of Berk has become a peaceful haven where Vikings and dragons live in harmony, bothering nobody but the sheep that they use as balls in Quidditch-like competitions.

Young Hiccup (voiced again by Jay Baruchel) has won over the whole community to his once rebellious dragon-loving ways, but remains reluctant to replace his very different father Stoick (Gerard Butler) as village chief, preferring to quest ever further afield in search of more dragons – and the origins of his own nature. These he finds simultaneously on a secret island whose sole human inhabitant is the mysterious dragon-rider Valka (Cate Blanchett) – but Hiccup’s travels will also lead him to Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a would-be tyrant over dragons and humans alike.

While this sequel, again adapted loosely from the books of Cressida Cowell, is still full of laughs, Hiccup himself is now an earnest emo unsure of his own identity, leaving most of the comic business to his menagerie of friends and fellow villagers. This is a far more serious film than its predecessor, even if writer/director Dean DeBlois judiciously cuts away from some of the more adult moments in the film’s second half.

The key theme here, at work in both human and dragon worlds, is the complex (and gratifyingly unresolved) interplay between nature and nurture, between genetic legacy and free will, between instinct and choice. Some – but certainly not all – characters exhibit a capacity for profound change, while nobody, but nobody, questions the ‘other reason’ that Gobber (Craig Ferguson) has never married.

Tolerance, mutual understanding and respect are the ideals that this film champions, emblematised in the relationship between Hiccup and his dragon Toothless – but How To Train Your Dragon 2 also demonstrates how easily despots can manipulate and crush such values, bringing Hiccup’s brand of liberal-minded reasoning into violent collision with its own limits. These are big issues indeed, as fitting for the post-millennial as the Viking age – but for those uninterested in such matters, there are also spit jokes and flights of fancy aplenty…

In a nutshell: This sequel forms a well-balanced symbiotic relationship between the entertainingly silly and the deadly serious.

Anton Bitel