Five years have passed since Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III befriended the injured Night Fury he named Toothless, and in that time the village of Berk has changed; with the new relationship between dragons and humans, both have thrived, Berk growing to a prosperous town where dragons are welcomed, stabled, ridden in tournaments. The only ones who are unhappy with the arrangement are the local sheep population, flung about the sky for hunting practice. The relationship between Hiccup and his father Stoick the Vast has also changed; previously almost disowned as the black sheep of the family, Hiccup has been embraced by his stern Viking warrior father who is preparing to name him as successor as chieftain of Berk.
But still Hiccup does not fit in; with Toothless he is determined to keep exploring the borders of their land, charting the unknown territories; followed by his friend Astrid atop her Deadly Nadder Stormfly, they sight smoke from what they presume to be a wildfire, but upon investigating they are assailed by a group of dragon trappers led by the savage Eret whose fortress has been destroyed by an ice breathing dragon and his prizes stolen, though from the point of view of Hiccup and Astrid, rescued.
Barely escaping themselves, they flee back to Berk to warn Stoick that there home will soon be targeted by Eret and his master, Drago Bludvist, who is building a dragon army. Inevitably Hiccup and Stoick disagree how they should handle the threat, leading Hiccup to leave on a solo mission to avert the invasion, refusing to believe that with all he has achieved in his own tribe that Drago will not be swayed by his arguments. But Stoick knows Drago of old, and realises that he is not a man who is open to persuasion.
With a global haul of almost half a billion dollars, it was no surprise that the first loose adaptation of Cressida Cowell’s children’s series, running to eleven volumes over the last decade, would generate a sequel. The principal voice cast have been reunited, The Sorceror’s Apprentice’s Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, 300’s Gerard Butler as Stoick, Craig Ferguson as Stoick’s right hand Viking Gobber and America Ferrera as Astrid, but there are also significant additions: Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington as Eret, Guardian’ of the Galaxy’s Djimon Hounsou as Drago and Lord of the Rings’ Cate Blanchett as Valka, but none of this talent would have purpose if not properly supported graphically.
Directed by Lilo & Stitch‘s Dean DeBlois and with cinematographer Roger Deakins as visual consultant, from the opening scene of the games in the skies above Brek to the final battle on the shores of the town, the animation is universally excellent. The characters, environments and landscapes are beautifully rendered, highlighted not only in the intense flying and battle sequences but also in the exquisite use of light in the quieter moments where Toothless dances in the sun above the cloud tops, the modelling of the transitions between dense water vapour and clear air exceptional.
The first appearance of Valka atop Cloudjumper is particularly effective; no saddle needed for this dragon master who stands uprights on her dragon’s back, silently rising through the clouds beside Hiccup and Toothless. The breathless precision aeronautics also deserve special mention, as does the motion of Valka, a different character from all the other Vikings, an elegant dance with her coterie of dragons and her visitors.
More driven and exciting than the first film showcasing an expanded world and growing relationships and several epic battle scenes balanced with strong characters and positive values embraced in words and action this sequel will delight both adults and children, fortunately without lapsing into being childish, but for all the joy there is a marginal disappointment that it has come to pass that the most successful screen dragons are based on children’s books.
Springing from a global mythology and folklore, dragons have been endemic in popular culture in fantasy and science fiction for decades, presented in modern times through JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire and more recently in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, yet they have translated to the screen with curtailed success.
The film adaptation of Eragon served to do little other than painfully demonstrate how derivative that book was, the second part of The Hobbit was so tedious as to diminish the impact of the titular Smaug, the three dragons of Daenerys Targaryen have so far been largely peripheral in Game of Thrones, though are likely to become more important as they continue to grow, and the valiant efforts of Ronald D Moore to bring McCaffrey’s Dragonriders to television fell victim to “creative differences,” a sad decision which denied viewers of one what could have been a rich and broad tapestry drawn from a series of equally appreciated novels, but which might one day be revisited if the dragonriders of Berk continue to fly victorious.
How to Train your Dragon 2 is currently on release in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX