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Movie review: All things come of age in ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’




Don't worry, that trailer only spoils the first half. There's still plenty to keep you gripping your seat in suspense (and your ribcage in hilarity) in the second half.

Rarely does a sequel live up to the success of its predecessor, whether it is a live-action film or an animated film. But not only does “How to Train Your Dragon 2” achieve that rare feat—it completely distinguishes itself from the first movie by making the familiar new with the complexity of its old cast, compelling new characters, a rollercoaster of a narrative, humor for all ages, nuanced animation, and rollicking riffs on the musical score by award-winning composer John Powell (“Kung Fu Panda,” as well as most of Dreamworks' animated films) and Sigur Rós vocalist Jónsi.

And in case it isn't obvious yet, this movie is much larger in scope, being the second of three installments.

Jay Baruchel returns as the voice of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III.
Five years after Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless become best friends and defeat the queen of the old dragon nest that used to terrorize Berk, dragons have become integral to regular life in the viking village.

Hiccup is on the verge of inheriting the title of Chief from his father Stoick (Gerard Butler). Astrid (America Ferrera) and the others are into dragon racing, but Hiccup and Toothless spend their time practicing their flight maneuvers, testing Hiccup's invented devices, and discovering new islands.

They quickly discover that something sinister is afoot when the pair, with Astrid and Stormfly, discover dragon trappers—led by Eret, son of Eret (Kit Harrington)—catching dragons for Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), who is building an army of them. Hiccup meets resistance from Stoick when he declares he can try making Drago see reason—but he and Toothless fly out of Berk anyway and are unexpectedly captured and shown a beautiful dragon sanctuary by experienced dragon rider Valka (Cate Blanchett), who turns out to be Hiccup's mother, long thought dead.

Luckily, one need not watch the first movie to understand the second, although there are some jokes and plot points whose seeds were planted in the first. Either way, it wouldn't hurt for fans to rewatch the first movie before diving into this one.

Like mother, like son: Valka is a natural with dragons.
And dive into it, they will. Much of the story of HTTYD 2 is tight—so tight, I can name a handful of themes packed into it from the top of my head. But what stands out foremost is how best of friends Hiccup and Toothless have both come of age (literally; it's revealed that Hiccup is 20 years old now and that Toothless is the same age as he is).

The movie's tone apes this to a tee: it take pains to emphasize Hiccup's optimistic innocence and equal pains to show that he cannot keep this forever when the bonds between him and Toothless are tested to breaking point. (And to be honest, my tears were threatening to fall during that particular scene. My sister made a joke about hearing me “wiping my eyes” later on.)

Commendable also are the relationships between the characters. Dreamworks definitely knows how to pander to fans, giving official couple Hiccup and Astrid perhaps a full (and yet so few!) five minutes of screen time in the beginning, and playing up Stoick and Valka's rekindled love affair.

What makes both these relationships work lies partially in the miracle of the animation, the first time Dreamworks has used its new lighting and animation software. There is a wider range of subtle facial expressions and movements, and I suspect that they might have written in the scene where Astrid mimics Hiccup's quirks and voice just to demonstrate this.

We also get to see new sides to Toothless's cat-like, childlike personality whenever he tries to impress Valka's larger dragon Cloudjumper, as well as every time Valka reveals a new “feature” in his arsenal of skills.

Hiccup and Toothless explore new areas of their world.
Bringing up most of the laughs and proving that everyone has gotten older is the love square between Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and Eret. Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson), Stoick's friend and voice of reason, also elicits his fair share of hearty guffaws, especially when he makes side comments about Stoick and Valka early on in their marriage.

As for the plot itself, I was continually surprised by how things were turning out: one minute, we are led to believe that things are going to go one way, only for other elements to push it another way as they barge onto the screen. This, as well as Toothless's breathtaking flight sequences paired with a soaring score, brought out the childlike awe in me.

However, no movie—not even one that garnered a 100-percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes—is perfect. As a megalomaniac villain with a tragic backstory, Drago Bludvist is still rather unsympathetic, as director Dean DeBlois chose to go with Drago simply growling it out rather than the flashbacks afforded to both Stoick and Valka much earlier on.

Also, tough girl Astrid, who was fun to watch in the first film, was somewhat relegated to the background in order for Valka to step up to the storyline (though Valka is by no means less of a strong female character).

Hiccup and Toothless flying side by side.
And Hiccup's narrations, which bookend this film just as it did the first, were a little grating to the ears. Whereas these were understated in the previous film, highlighting the strength of Hiccup's humble personality throughout the movie, the second movie's narrations may have been meant to show him more confident. Instead, the final narration in particular was delivered in manic, rather hysterical tones.

But overall, very little served to jolt me out of the HTTYD 2 experience, theater full of little kids notwithstanding. Only my getting on the wrong train afterward made me snap back to reality. The film well deserved the applause its ending was met with. Definitely worth a second watch. — BM, GMA News

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” opens in theaters on June 11.
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