I was a big fan of the first movie, so when they announced a sequel to it i was very cautious as to my opinion on whether or not i was sold on the idea. Still, i kept my mind open. However, when i saw the first full trailer and saw the massive spoiler in it, it didn't help boost my expectations. Then i went to see [How to Train Your Dragon 2](movie:44736), and it was fantastic, so if that's all you want to know, then stop reading and go see it. But for the rest of us, let's delve deeper...
The plot is the main thing that elevates it above its predecessor. The first installment was a fairly formulaic underdog/feel-good film. The sequel however, manages to take it into the genre of a sprawling action/adventure in a surprisingly natural way. The story begins with establishing the new dragon racing in Berk blah blah blah, basically picking up where the first one left off except five years later. Hiccup and Toothless are now explorers charting the new worlds that have opened up thanks to their pet dragons. The story really takes off from there with them, along with Astrid and her dragon, running into rogue dragon snatchers working for Drago Bludvist. No second guesses as to who the villain will be then. They escape the snatchers easily enough but then Stoic reveals that Bludvist is a psycho with some kind of power over dragons. So then we get some tension over Hiccup's loyalties as he enjoys being an explorer and peace-keeper yet Stoic wants him to be the next chief. So we have the beginnings of a pretty standard coming of age story. However, while i implied i was critical of the next move, i have to say that when i saw it in context, it worked damn well. It's definitely a spoiler, but as i said, if you saw the trailer you'll already know it but i'm gonna hide it anyways.
So his mother, Valka, turns up in a pretty damn well spectacular reveal where we learn she's a kind of dragon guardian who roams free. (On a side-note, i have to say that as a Scot, her accent really annoyed me, but it wasn't bad enough to take me out of the film). This works perfectly as a parallel to the chief path his father has lined up for him. Her being introduced to Stoic again gives us an amazingly heartfelt scene where we get to see how much love Stoic has for Valka. They also have a beautiful moment together where they dance to a kind of renewal of the marriage vows tune that is probably a better moment than most of the best romances can't boast.
Going much further into the plot would get too spoilery so i'll just round it off by saying that when the film reached the halfway point, I had no idea where the story was going, and i love it when i get that, especially in a family film. Still, i'll give my thoughts on that moment anyway:
Stoic's death. Honestly, i got quite emotional at his funeral. It plays out excellently, from his death being down to Hiccup's naivety regards Bludvist and Toothless, to the incredibly compelling reactions from the characters. It all fits seamlessly into the narrative, making the story more engaging and raising the stakes. Yes, i'm sad he won't be in the next one, but credit has to go to any film studio who have the guts to kill off Gerard Butler before the series climax.
This is the category that made the first film a classic in my head, and all the favorites return, all of them just as good, if not better than they were before. Hiccup has matured naturally in character and his chemistry with Astrid, while not explored enough for my liking, felt very genuine. Hiccup comes across as more confident, even cocky at times, which makes sense as he's spent five years as "the pride of Berk". Stoic is still really awesome as always. One problem i had was that Drago Bludvist wasn't particularly interesting. He has an interesting backstory and turns out to be a well thought out anti-hero but he spends to much of the movie as an [insert bad guy here] before we get to that stage. Some of the side characters like Snotlout, Fishlegs, Ruffnut and Tuffnut could have been cut out although i guess they act as comic relief for a younger age group than me so fair play on that front. The dragons are all fun to play around with and their animation really brings them to life, especially Toothless.
The flight scenes are definitely a highlight of the series so far. The 3-D is incorporated flawlessly, not feeling gimmicky but really another layer to the action. A lot of fun is also gained out of Hiccups new flaming sword which is both cool and intriguing. Hiccup's new flight suit is pretty awesome too and one scene where Toothless spits fire in front of him to give him lift is epic, scientifically accurate and just so damn ingenious. The film also introduces Alphas, a giant breed of dragon similar to the one we see controlling the dragons from the first one. The scenes with them fighting are nice but don't really compare to Toothless soaring through the skies. I don't know how Dreamworks do it, but i just feel like i'm up in the air right next to any dragon when they take flight.
There's also one scene at the end where Toothless unveils some kind of super body heat power which is weird but at the same time pretty breathtaking. I'm not sure on where i stand on him just pulling it out of nowhere but the whole scene is really incredible so i'm pretty sure i don't mind. It bemused me that they didn't kill the Alpha, and i get the feeling that it will be back but hey, my trust has been earned in terms of where the series goes from here.
This is a film i would definitely say can hold up to some of the best of Pixar. Not better than the Incredibles per-se, but definitely in that league, and that is no small feat. So if you liked the first one, check this one out. If you didn't, check it out anyway. I'm definitely excited for what happens to Hiccup and crew next.