Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Get out your flaming swords and leather gliding suits, we're reviewing How to Train Your Dragon 2!

It's been five years since the events of the first movie, and everyone's taken to dragons pretty well. While Hiccup(Jay Baruchel) and Toothless are out mapping the region, he learns of a dangerous new threat named Drago(Djimon Hounsou) who wants to hunt and control all dragons, along with a suspicious dragon rider(Kate Blanchett) who turns out may have connections with Hiccup.

I really enjoyed the first How to Train Your Dragon, and when we first started seeing trailers, I was sure the movie would be good but I was afraid they'd give away too much in the trailers. Well they certainly did give away ALOT of the movie in the trailers, but huh. I thought this would have come out better than it did.

My main problem with the movie is that a lot of the plot feels SUPER contrived. There's tons of places where characters just do things with no other reason than they needed the characters to be there or do that thing(oh man this is going to be hella hard to explain without giving away too much of the plot). There's a lot of "hey that character is doing something IMPORTANT. Better just let him do that thing instead of stopping them in any way OH NO HE DID THE THING if only I had stopped him in any way" and also "Guys we need to go do something REALLY SUPER IMPORTANT oh hey let's stop and look at this other thing even though that first thing is life or death probably" and that really kills the urgency and stretches believability. There's also the classic "Let's trust this new character even though we have every reason not to" and one of my favorites "HOW IN THE HELL DID THEY FIND THIS PLACE THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS." Good times. Also, LOTS of awkward exposition dumps at characters.

They add new characters who sound cool at the onset but barely do anything. Drago is the main baddie but he has barely any story until the absolute last second when he needs one. And hey, is this the first/only black character in the HTTYD universe? And he's the evil bad guy? Because that's kind of...problematic I think. Look, this is an animation basically involving steampunk dragon riders, I could care less for that whole, "well there wouldn't be any people of different color in this region" bullplop IT'S A CARTOON YOU CAN FIT THEM IN THERE. And then there's Valka the dragonrider, who I have no problem spoiling that she's Hiccup's long lost mother(because the trailers certainly didn't) who is this badass expert dragon rider and seems cool, but as soon as the Big Battle breaks out she's quickly turned into a damsel in distress for Hiccup and his dad to save. That is supremely disappointing and makes no sense from how they've already set her up. Although, I was sure she was also going to get killed off so Hiccup could have REASONS and such, and that didn't happen, so that's something I guess? Although someone does die and although they start to set it up well in the beginning, the death just feels so contrived and forced I can't help but hate it. It's one of those things I just want to complain about but I can't because that would ruin the movie. Needless to say it feels dumb and forced and I hate it.

Also, a lot of the side characters had butt-all to do. They were mostly relegated to this side story love rhombus with Snoutlout and Fishlegs swooning over Ruffnut and Ruffnut swooning over the new guy. And it's...kind of dumb? I mean I kind of like the idea that the once Astrid is out of the picture both of the guys go for the only other girl their age(with Ruffnut's twin brother apparently swearing celibacy) because I guess that's what happens when there are only two girls in the village. But on the other hand, I find it dumb that, REALLY? There are only TWO girls in that entire village??? That's unsettling both from a women-being-underrepresented-in-movies standpoint and also a how-the-hell-is-that-clan-going-to-survive standpoint. I like that there are a lot of parts with Ruffnut subjecting the new guy in slow mo female gaze shots, but this is literally all their characters have in the way of personality and it feels like a real step down from the archetypes they played in the first.

And then there's Astrid, who has pretty much been mitigated to the role of Hiccup's girlfriend, y'now, when she's not also getting saved by the new guy, and only serves to be a talking board for Hiccup most of the time. She doesn't get much to do, and what she does get to do feels like she's just there to move pieces around a board. She turns out better than Valka, but, I hate to be a broken record, it feels like a step down from the previous movie.

I do feel I should mention that this is one of the few movies that has multiple disabled people as main characters and THAT'S still pretty cool. I'm sure disabled people don't get a lot of representation in media and a lot of times it's looked at as being less than your full self, so it's nice to see that the main character is missing part of his leg and no one gives him any grief about it and he never has any scenes in which he has to crawl and struggle because of his disability.

So yeah, I have a lot of problems with the story. But if we're looking at this purely from an animation standpoint, WOW. It's really good. The textures and animation are gorgeous. There were times when I thought the leather looked like real leather and characters moved like real people. All with really fun and interesting dragon designs. And this has to up the game on subtle male body hair because there are some hot dudes with hairy arms in this. It might have been nice to see some women with body hair too, but most of them are covered up so I guess we'll put a point in for not having over-sexualized female characters showing skin for no reason.  I don't think it has that same roller coaster feeling of flying through the clouds as the first, but that may be because I was expecting it. It's still a rush and way worth seeing it in 3D though. It's a gorgeous film and probably worth seeing just for that.

It's an alright sequel. The first film was such a breath of fresh air and this was just...not. It's very pretty to look at, and it's nice in kind of set-piece to set-piece kind of way. But it feels long and the pacing is off and the plot feels contrived and there are a lot of dumb things. But Toothless is still cute and there are lots of cool dragon designs and all the voice cast seems to be having fun with their characters.

THE GOOD: Great animation, beautiful movie, cool designs, good voice acting, representation of disabled people.

THE BAD: Plot is contrived, things don't make sense and are dumb, not a lot of racial diversity, feels long, not great female characters, how did they find that place, side characters don't get a lot to do, dumb deaths, info dumps.

THE VERDICT: 3.5/5 I had fun watching it(when I wasn't thinking how dumb the plot was) but it's one of those movies I like less the more I think about it. It's not as terrible as some other animated movies(especially some of Dreamworks other previous debacles) but it's nothing compared to its predecessor. It needs some better story connections. But it's pretty fun. So maybe go see it if the story stuff isn't going to make you super angry? Or just go back and watch the original.

MOVIES LIKE IT: How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda 2, HTTYD: Riders of Berk(TV series), Monsters vs. Aliens

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Hiccup leaves Berk in a rush just as the doors are closing because it is SUPER IMPORTANT to get to Drago and stop the war. Then he finds his mother and completely forgets about that plotline and decides to stay with her for a day. Like, I know this is a big deal finding your mother and all, but maybe make up your mind about the urgency? At least it's a really pretty set-piece.

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