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Arts Rancho Santa Fe

Film Review: There’s smoke but no fire in ‘Dragon 2’

The fiery breath of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” burns bright, but it gets extinguished at times on account of a lackluster villain and the ensuing consequences.

Five years have passed since Hiccup and Toothless succeeded in uniting dragons and Vikings on the island of Berk, and now they are more inseparable than ever.

When they discover a secret ice cave that houses hundreds of dragons and the enigmatic Dragon Rider, they find themselves caught in the middle of a large conflict between humans and dragons.

In order to uphold the peace, however, it’s going to take the two of them and their friends to set things right.

And, in nearly every aspect, the highly-anticipated sequel to 2010’s “How to Train Your Dragon” manages to do just that; the animation is of sterling quality, particularly in the characters’ faces where there is a remarkable degree of subtlety in their expressions.

The humans look more evolved, the dragons appear more detailed, and even the new Scandinavian landscapes are more spacious, opening up many opportunities to create plenty of death-defying action.

It’s no surprise to see the improved animation reflecting the bigger universe it has created.

Speaking of death-defying action, the sequel kicks off with the Berk dragon riders participating in a cool race, followed by run-ins with trappers led by Eret and the occasional moment in which Hiccup and Toothless fly through the skies together (and separately).

The exhilaration factor refuses to stop escalating when we enter the icy haven where Hiccup’s long-lost mother, Valka, enters the picture, adding an extra layer of splendor to the thrills.

Clearly director Dean DeBlois had his ambitions as to where he wanted to go with the sequel regarding action sequences, and his desire to go bigger in scope culminates in the two titanic battles between the army led by the villain Drago Bludvist and the group belonging to Hiccup.

These scenes are beautifully shot and teeming with enthusiasm, and if you couldn’t get enough of what the first “How to Train Your Dragon” had to offer, you’re in for a big treat.

As for the voice cast, it pleased me to see that the returning members hadn’t lost their touch; Jay Baruchel mixes the perfect combination of wit, curiosity and bravery in his performance as Hiccup, and Gerard Butler is sufficiently strong and charismatic in his role of Stoick, Hiccup’s father.

America Ferrera instills spunky warmth in Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid.

Craig Ferguson, who plays Gobber, is guaranteed to have audiences chuckling at his exuberant behavior.

Newcomer Cate Blanchett breathes fresh life into this animated adventure with her graceful, heartfelt portrayal of the reclusive vigilante Valka.

Alright, so it is obvious “How to Train Your Dragon 2” can still, like its predecessor, breathe fire and light up the skies.

However, its flames drop in intensity once Drago, a supposedly critical factor of the film’s plot, comes into focus.

What I’m not a fan of is how underdeveloped the villain turned out to be; his past motive didn’t mesh well with his current one, and therefore the logic behind his actions made no sense.

This probably had to do with DeBlois’ indecision, as he couldn’t seem to make up his mind on where he wanted to go with Drago when writing the screenplay.

And when you have a villain who is a contradiction in itself, certain story elements are sure to be affected.

I understood this sequel revolved around Hiccup’s journey to discover who he is inside, and his relationships with his father and mother helped to flesh out his character arc.

But there’s nothing contributory about the dynamic between him and Drago during the dragon battles where they meet.

As a result, the film’s heart loses a substantial portion of emotional resonance towards the end; that punch to the gut isn’t quite as strong throughout several key solemn scenes.

That’s not to say “How to Train Your Dragon 2” won’t shoot fire from its mouth to excite moviegoers; if anything, I’m certain it will, especially for those who thoroughly enjoyed the first film.

But, for me personally, I think I’ll stick with the original.

MPAA rating: PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor

Run time: 1 hour and 42 minutes

Playing: In general release


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