Game of clones
How to Train Your Dragon 2 suffers from a particularly acute case of sequelitis. Given the turnaround time for animated features, it seems clear this one went into production almost immediately after the first movie proved a hit in 2010. The first one was a delightful surprise; a twist on the old Aesop’s fable of “Androcles and the Lion,” with flying scenes that made dizzying good use of 3-D. The sequel overdoes one of the original’s strong points—the flying scenes—and half-bakes the other one: i.e., the story. It’s around 100 minutes of movie strung out over 25 minutes worth of plot.
Jay Baruchel is back as the voice of the Viking prince Hiccup, puny son of Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), and the hero who spent the first movie making peace between dragons and humans in his island home of Berk. Now everything is just dandy between the formerly warring species, and they spend their time swooping around Berk in dragon races, an aerial sport that is just barely different enough from Quidditch to avoid a cease-and-desist letter from J.K. Rowling. Hiccup has been tapped to succeed his father as Viking chief, but he’s not sure he wants the job. He’s afraid that’s “not who he is.” His girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) has more faith in his leadership potential than he does.
At this point, for no better reason than that writer-director Dean DeBlois decided it was time to get back to the flying, Hiccup and Astrid and their dragons make an aerial reconnaissance. They discover a weird sort of iceberg in the sea, populated by what can only be called dragon rustlers. The rustlers fire nets from guns, bringing down Hiccup’s dragon Toothless—and Astrid’s, too, but that beast’s name (like most of the others, human and dragon) escapes me now. The group is led by a handsome brute named Eret (Kit Harington), and he seems to mistake Hiccup and Astrid for somebody else—he keeps “you people”-ing them, accusing them of things they know nothing about: stealing dragons intended for the army of somebody named Drago Bludvist, attacking with ice-breathing dragons, things like that.
Hiccup, Astrid and their mounts escape from captivity, continuing their exploring with a new urgency. That’s when Hiccup stumbles into a kind of dragon sanctuary, presided over by a mysterious masked dragonrider who turns out to be—to the surprise of absolutely nobody who’s seen either the movie’s trailer or The Empire Strikes Back—Hiccup’s long-lost and believed dead mother Valka (Cate Blanchett). Valka is not only the guardian of thousands of dragons that swarm like butterflies in summer, but is the keeper—or attendant, or something—of the Alpha Dragon, a massive beast the size of a small planet with 2-mile-long tusks that make it look like something out of a Japanese monster movie. This Alpha is the ice-breather Eret spoke of, and has created all those green-crystal icebergs Hiccup has discovered. The Alpha also has a telepathic link to all other dragons that compels them to do its bidding—all except the very youngest dragons, because they never listen to anybody (har, har). This limp joke will actually turn out to be a major plot point when the chips are down.
Just as Hiccup is assuring Mom there are no hard feelings over her running off to run her wildlife preserve all those years ago, Stoick and a search party show up looking for the missing Hiccup and Astrid, and there’s a happy family reunion. But at the mention of Drago and his being on the warpath, Stoick’s blood runs cold. He remembers the man, having in his youth been the sole survivor of one of Drago’s massacres.
Hiccup thinks if they can only reason with Drago they can change his mind. But there’s never any real danger of How to Train Your Dragon 2 reaching its climax around some negotiating table. When Drago finally shows up later, he turns out to look like a combination of Barbossa and Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and has the voice of Djimon Hounsou.
Harry Potter, Star Wars, the Godzilla movies, Pirates of the Caribbean. Last time, How to Train only cribbed from Aesop’s Fables. It was cleaner, and more fun, that way.