On its release back in 2010, ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ swiftly and ruthlessly established itself as quite possibly the greatest-ever movie with the word ‘dragon’ in the title that DIDN’T also star Bruce Lee (or Jason Scott Lee pretending to be Bruce Lee. Actually no, scratch that – ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’ was bobbins. A plague on your mansion, Rob Cohen!).
It rained down fiery death on ‘Double Dragon’ – admittedly, just like every other movie released before and since.
It left another offering from the Rob Cohen chaff factory, ‘Dragonheart’, blubbing like a baby with a smacked bottom.
And it made ‘The Last Dragon’, the Motown martial arts mash-up paid for outta the big pockets of Berry Gordy, look like the misguided folly of a mogul dipping his wick in a market other than his own. Which, of course, is precisely what that film is. But isn’t it nice that we’re all clear on that point? Yes, nice.
Now, an all-conquering triumph such as the one effected by ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is always likely to be interpreted as the peasantry pleading for another helping from the same barrel of swill – and that’s precisely how the wise and noble barons of DreamWorks Animation have taken it, resulting in the arrival of this sequel.
Picking up five years on from where the first film left off, ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ reunites us with Hiccup (voiced once again by the quavering tones of Jay Baruchel), who in the time since we’ve been away has transformed from nerdy teen to cloud-surfing brainbox; a proto-steampunk inventor who’s built himself a wingsuit and a prosthetic leg with changeable appendages (it’s kind of like a Swiss Army Knife mated with Rose McGowan’s gun-leg from ‘Planet Terror’).
All seems rosy in Hiccup’s ocean-bound home of Berk, with the once-dreaded dragons now integrated into the everyday lives of the populace, and his gruff-yet-lovable pa, Stoick (Gerard Butler), even talking about handing the reins of power over to him.
It’s a proposition the young heir has little time for, preferring as he does to endlessly soar the skies with his faithful dragon companion, Toothless. However, when Berk comes under threat from an old foe of Stoick’s, the ominous Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), Hiccup finds himself flung together with a mysterious figure from his own past, sparking a whole new adventure.
An awfully big adventure as it turns out. Y’see, ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2′ is written and directed by Dean DeBlois, who co-directed its predecessor with Chris Sanders, but is flying solo this time round, owing to Sanders’ commitments to 2013 DreamWorks hit ‘The Croods’.
And when striking his deal to take the helm of this second helping, DeBlois insisted it wasn’t simply another adventure; rather, that it form the middle chapter in an eventual trilogy, with the director claiming to have taken his cue from the original Star Wars films (presumably not in the sense that he’s going to wait 16 years before releasing a trio of particularly crappy prequels).
Whether ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ does indeed spawn a third installment remains to be seen. For having been tipped as one of the sure-fire smashes of what’s been a pretty slow summer season, it opened below expectations in the US last month, trailing behind ’22 Jump Street’ on its debut weekend.
But threequel or no threequel, the planned trilogy framework allows DeBlois sufficient space to build a bigger story, introduce new characters and move through emotional gears not often utilised in a kids film (even a kids film that definitely feels like it’s trying to hook in those slightly older kids who are allowed to go to the movies minus any style-cramping grown-ups).
The animation too has evolved greatly since episode one, with DeBlois again enlisting the services of the Coen Brothers’ regular cinematographer Roger Deakins as visual consultant. Apart from accompanying his director on a scouting mission to Norway’s Svalbard Islands for a spot of inspiration, Deakins reckons one of his major contributions to the movie was taking away lights.
The result of this expertise is an aesthetic that goes beyond simply impressive and into the realm of beautifully cinematic, most obviously in the sequences of cartwheeling dragon-flights through the sky.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a movie which offers ample thrills and spills for its intended audience, although curiously the character arc handed to Hiccup comes a little bit at the expense of his pal, Toothless.
While still integral to the story, the diminutive dragon is afforded fewer of those moments when it gets to act as avatar for the audience’s beloved family pets (or favourite YouTube kitties…), and the movie is just a little less lovable overall as a result.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is out now in Scotland and Northern Ireland and is released in the rest of the UK on 11 July.