June 30, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- How to Train Your Dragon 2

Alright, so a week late, but I finally saw How to Train Your Dragon 2 and I saw it with my cousin, Daniel, because he's staying here this week too, so that's pretty awesome. We'll be doing a joint one of these, which'll be interesting considering that I haven't done a co-written Mini-View before, so we'll see how this goes. I guess I'll talk about it first and then Dan will talk about it.

A quick note on how I felt about the first one: I loved that movie. That was the best movie Dreamworks has ever done, and it was so good that I actually didn't realize it was a Dreamworks film; it felt so much stronger than what they normally churn out, and it was such a welcome surprise and a breath of fresh air. The characters, the story, and the care put into the movie drew me in and held my attention, and I thought it was really good.

This one is a bit different. It's less of a character movie to me and more of an exploration of the world that these characters are in, which I found a little startling given that the first one was so character- and theme-focused. Certainly not a bad thing, and this one delivers a very good dosage of character development in the middle, and it builds on the world that the first one set up. Hiccup's journey this film is a little less prevalent or dramatic as the last one; here, he has to learn to become a leader in the face of adversity, but the interesting thing here is that his conflict with most of the other characters is internal. His dad wants to take the fight to Drogo, the main villain of the piece, believing that there is no other option, and his mom, whom we discover is alive and has been rescuing and harboring dragons, wants to fight Drogo to protect the dragons, thinking that all men are like Drogo as she has seen no evidence to the contrary.

Both of these characters want war, but they want it for different reasons, and I found that very interesting, and even more so because Hiccup must now convince both of them to settle for peace, but he must do so in two different ways. With his dad, he wants to convince him that Drogo can be reasoned with, and with his mom, he assures her that not all people are like Drogo and that Hiccup's people are just as good as his mom is. It was an interesting dynamic for the first half.

Sadly though, things quickly spiral away from that as we get a very weird villain introduction in that we finally meet Drogo and find out his plan to rule the world by taking control of the Alpha dragon, and then the whole movie almost completely drops the former character stuff in favor of action. It was certainly an interesting move; this wasn't really bad so much as startling.

The action in this one is very good; the dragons are colorful and lovable, and the antics that the human characters go through are fun and charming. The energy and pace of the movie are both engaging and effective, and I liked how animated and alive everything was here.

Drogo proves to be a rather one-dimensional villain, which I felt detracted from the overall story. Personally, I think it would have made the film stronger had the focus been on Hiccup convincing both his parents that dragons and humans could live in peace, and while they kind of did that between Hiccup and Drogo, things never really paid off. There was a great climactic moment when Hiccup is trying to pry Toothless away from the Alpha's hypnotic control, but the theme of bringing people together had been so lost by this point that the scene just didn't deliver the punch I thought it was supposed to give.

That aside, the first half of this thing was very strong. I loved the middle section of this when Hiccup finds his mom, and I did like the dynamic between his mom and dad; these two characters clearly love each other, and the writers worked with that brilliantly. I did think the relationship between the mom character and Hiccup could have been made stronger; instead of her just telling him over and over that he was just like her, I feel they could have had a scene with them bonding over something other than dragons, give them something to talk about as a family.

Overall, I liked this one. I don't think it's a successor to the original, but I do think it a good sequel despite some roads taken that I think detracted from the setup of the film in the first act or so. The dynamics between the characters work, the comedy works, and the action is ramped up to eleven for this one. It feels like more care was put into the first one, but this is still a very fun ride.

Here's Daniel's review of it:

I remember enjoying the first How to Train Your Dragon film quite a bit. I found it to be a lot of fun and enjoyed the fact that it didn't talk down to the audience...I am somewhat older than the intended audience of these films, but felt that the studio was working to keep my interest. A moment that really stood out to me was the scene were Hiccup discovers that he lost a foot during the climax. It was the sort of move that you don't see a lot of in films for a young audience. It wasn't there for shock value or anything of the sort; rather, it expressed that the actions which the characters take do have consequences, and more importantly, that those consequences can be dealt with.

Did the sequel manage the same trick? I would have to say that it did. Once again, the film takes risks that pay off. The climax of this film could be argued to be the fight at the end, but in my opinion it is a bit before that. I really enjoyed the scene between Hiccup and Toothless, but again, I don't feel that that was the climax. Rather, the movie seemed to hinge around the eulogy that Hiccup gives for his father.

Backing up a bit, this is probably one of the best families in a children's movie. (Don't worry, Incredibles. I still love you.) The scene where Hiccup's parents reunite and then bond over a song...it was fantastic. It simultaneously felt like something out of an old fairy tale and like something you could see between couples in the real world. Excellent acting, Blanchett and Butler.

Naturally, this meant that the father had to die. Familial bliss never lasts in these films. But before that, we got to see them working together. I got very nervous when Hiccup's mother ran out and saw the ships. Would she think that Hiccup had betrayed her? Would this ruin the reunion between the family members? Fortunately, it did not. With one line, "We're a team now," the unit was held strong. And then, even more surprisingly, the headstrong chief turns to his wife and asks her what she wants to do. There is no arguing over who knows what is better, or whether anyone is capable of handling any particular battle. All three know each other's abilities and trust each other...in this case, Valka knows the world better, so Stoick follows her lead. It was refreshing to see a lack of drama in the proceedings. It isn't that I don't love dysfunction, because I do...I just like seeing a family film that really celebrates the power of the family when they stand together. In fact, I think that this show of unity is what really made the death of Stoick so tragic.

Returning to the eulogy, it was a surprisingly powerful moment. This movie saw a clash between Hiccup and Stoick, as well as a bond between Hiccup and Valka. It was easy to understand; Valka is really, really cool, and basically was embracing Hiccup's life decades before he discovered it, while Stoick had to be brought around to a peaceful way of thought and is still struggling to trust his son's judgement. Hiccup spends the entire film running from his father, while he gets to show off his inventions and skills to his mother. The first is giving him a destiny he doesn't want while the second is embracing the life he currently loves. But there is more to it than that. As Hiccup says, he was so afraid of following in his father's footsteps because he never thought he could be him. It was clear that he could follow in his mother's footsteps...he was doing that before he met her. His father, on the other hand, has been present throughout his life, constantly better than him. The first film was really about his embracing a life different than his father's, and that attitude has carried over to this one. Even traits he shares with both his parents, like a sense of the dramatic, he attributes solely to his mother. It is only after Stoick's death that he is able to accept that he doesn't reject his father's life so much as he fears failing at it. He doesn't want to try doing what his father does because he might fail, and then he will have failed his father. Entirely rejecting that way of life seems safer, and so he does. Now that his father is dead, however, he has to take it on, because there is nobody else to do it. He accepts his father's credo, that a chief protects his own, and runs with it. He still uses the skills he got from his mother, but he merges them with his father's way of life as well. He has managed to embrace both his legacies, the one that came naturally and the one he struggled with, and is the stronger for it.

Another surprising aspect of the film was the emphasis on failure. I was bothered at first that Drogo was just a typical movie villain. After all, the whole film had seen Hiccup espousing his peaceful beliefs. Both his parents assured him that it wouldn't work, that Drogo could not be turned. And in the end, he couldn't. I am used to seeing heroes in these films be right, succeed in what they attempt. Hiccup does not. He has to realize at the funeral that, as many people as he has turned, even in this film, not everyone can be reasoned with. And, like it or not, he has to be proactive. Hiccup himself is not a fighter, and never will be, but he accepts that that way of life is, at times, necessary. He frees Toothless to fight the battle, and thus secures the safety of his village. This isn't exactly an optimistic message, but it isn't a pessimistic one either. It is simply realistic, like this film, and not something I was expecting out of children's entertainment.

All in all, the film had both strengths and weaknesses, things that bothered me and things that delighted me, and I could spend more time talking about them if I wanted. Instead, I'd just like to leave with stating again that this movie escapes the pigeonhole so often attributed to children's films. I think I enjoyed this more as a twenty-year-old than I would have as a child. (Though the kids in front of me sure clapped hard at the end, so who knows.) It isn't the only children's movie that I enjoyed, but I felt that this one really goes the extra mile in ambition. It felt like a story I might see in the mythology of ancient cultures, stories intended to be heard by everyone, without thought to age. It is a mature story, in the best of ways, one which presents both escapism and realism without diluting either. To call it a perfect movie would be absurd; my favourite movie isn't flawless either. But I enjoyed it, would recommend it to others, and hope to see other movies follow its lead. All in all, that's enough for me.

A fine review, Daniel (this is Luke, by the way). Well, I think it's fair to say we both liked it. I guess Daniel liked it a little more than I did, which is cool.

Tomorrow we're seeing Transformers: Age of Extinction. A very.... very different film than this one.

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