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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Movie review: ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ falls short of original’s charm

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  • I love it when a good film comes out, makes lots of money, gets the go-ahead for a sequel, and an even better film results. Sorry, that’s not the case here. There’s nothing overtly bad about “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” It’s full of action, the characters are likable (except for the ones that aren’t supposed to be), it’s funny ... there’s plenty of praise to go around. But it doesn’t surpass or even stand up to the quality of the first one, especially in the storyline.
    It’s five years later, and all is going well between the Viking inhabitants in the remote village of Berk and the now domesticated dragons that were once their enemies. The dragons used to steal and eat the villagers’ sheep, and the villagers in turn set out to kill the dragons. In the sequel’s opening sequence, villagers and dragons share the enjoyment of catching sheep – in the guise of big, fluffy balls – while flying through the air together in dragon races.
    And it’s not only the dragons that are flying. Returning in the lead role is the village chief’s son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the brainy but not brawny fellow who made peace between dragons and villagers in the original. Hiccup is also a tinkerer, and he’s invented a wing-like contraption that allows him to fly alongside his pet dragon Toothless. Well, he doesn’t actually fly; it’s more like gliding, and he’s not very good at it. That’s where some of the comedy comes from, and there’s plenty of it, mostly directed at young viewers and delivered via fast-paced sight gags and funny-looking characters (only older audience members will realize how many of them are wearing prosthetics, due to war-related incidents).
    One of the dilemmas the film digs for itself is that it often veers too far away from that funny stuff, and carries a sense of impending doom. It all starts innocently enough, with the question of whether young Hiccup will someday become chief in place of his he-man dad Stoick (Gerard Butler); the fact that Hiccup would rather be a dreamer than a leader; and the thoughts of young love interest Astrid (America Ferrera) that Hiccup would make a great chief.
    But all of that talk is put by the wayside when word gets out that someone is stealing dragons in order to build a dragon army, then start taking over the countryside. That would be Drago (Djimon Hounsou), a vicious bad guy stuck with the old cliché of deserving some sympathy because he’s had a rough past related, of course, to run-ins with dragons.
    The film suddenly jumps further off-track by introducing the new thread of Stoick not being a widower (as was hinted in the first film), but having been deserted by his wife Valka (Cate Blanchett), upon whom a startled Hiccup stumbles, finding out not only that she’s alive, but also that she’s the equivalent of a dragon whisperer.
    Page 2 of 2 - OK, so war is coming, we find out that heroic Stoick and dastardly Drago have a past together – and it’s not a good one (explanations on them and others are provided through background-filling flashbacks), the family unit is getting back together and – watch out, big twist coming – good dragons are coming under control of bad people.
    There’s even more comedy, provided by the grumbling and nattering of Stoick’s much-wounded second in command Gobber (Craig Ferguson); Hiccup evolves into an optimistic rebel who’s convinced that he can keep the peace; and the flying, swooping 3D sequences are quite good (though nowhere near the perfection of “Avatar”). But when things, as they must, turn to battle, they also turn dark, with results that are unnecessarily downbeat, from which the film, happy ending and all, never quite recovers. Yes, it’s bigger than the first film, but that only offers more proof that bigger is not necessarily better.
    There’s also a problem with the title: “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Just like the badly titled “Despicable Me 2,” in which the main character is no longer the least bit despicable, there isn’t a lick of dragon training in this one.
    HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
    Written and directed by Dean DeBlois
    With voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera
    Rated PG

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