How to Train Your Dragon 2 Is Good, BUT…

HTTYD2
I saw How to Train Your Dragon 2 yesterday, and although my initial impression was that I enjoyed it more than the first film, the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became with several elements. So now I’m going to dump out my thoughts on HTTYD2, the sequel to a movie that I think is one of Dreamworks animation’s two masterpieces (the other being Kung Fu Panda). It’s going to read very negative, but I just want to put a disclaimer that I did dig this film, and it’s absolutely worth seeing! Also SPOILERS.

I’ll start with what I loved about the movie. Its first half is expertly paced. For the first hour, they elegantly reintroduce the main characters and their personalities and then slide into the set up for mysterious off screen conflict that had me completely engaged. The introduction of Valka, Hiccup’s mother, was emotionally powerful, and I was incredibly eager to find out more about her history. I also loved the movie’s visuals. The aged up character looks crazy cool, and basically all the cinematography is on an epic scale. The soundtrack is swelling and heroic, and although I want to fault John Powell for overusing the main theme, it is SUCH A GREAT MAIN THEME, so I can’t be that down on it. But then the movie starts answering questions to all the mysteries it’s set up, and things begin to get muddled. They don’t exactly fall apart but we’re never given definitive explanations for a lot of what transpires.

Valka quickly becomes a bewildering character. Why did she never return home? She says she tried to convince everyone in Berk, many times before she was dragon-napped, to stop fighting dragons. She then says she didn’t think she could ever change anyone’s mind about the peaceful nature of dragons if she returned after she was taken. WHAT?? That’s like an alien abductee suddenly being best buds with a peaceful alien civilization that she can leave and come back to anytime she wants, but she doesn’t think bringing a friend to see the alien civilization will be a convincing argument for its existence! Seriously, lady, bring me to your alien civilization and I will, at the very least, strongly consider believing its existence is possible. She also says she thought her family would be better off without her, although she gives no explanation as to why.

She then claims that after she was carried off by a dragon and discovered how great and peaceful dragons were, she decided to help protect them from the film’s villain, Drago Bludvist,  instead of returning home. Well that might be a good reason not to return home, but it also raises a number of questions as to the relationship between Valka and Bludvist. Has this Bludvist guy been terrorizing dragons for the past 20 years? And over the past five years how has this group of dragon hunters not come across or been lead straight to Berk? The movie is kind of vague as to whether or not Bludvist is a returning threat from a previous generation or if he’s been doing his evil ‘capture dragons’ thing for 20 years, but if Valka’s been tending the dragons for all that time, then  one would assume he’s been actively hunting them for the same length.

To explain Valka’s 20 year absence better, I could put together a plausible scenario where Valka fell in love with her new dragon friends very quickly, saw the damage being done to them by Bludvist, and decided helping them was a more necessary cause to focus on than returning home and raising her child. I could see how she would feel very guilty about that decision, which would explain why she’s so concerned about what Stoick may think of her when they meet up after twenty years. But this all requires a lot of mental arithmetic to piece together and is not clearly stated or depicted in the film. Maybe this is all a minor gripe, but a simple line of Valka stating to Hiccup “I wanted to come home, to be with you, but keeping the dragons safe from Bludvist was too important to me, and I knew your father would raise you well,” would have clarified it all and left me feeling a lot more satisfied with her backstory. And then, of course, after she reconnects with Stoick she’s given virtually nothing to do for the rest of the movie!!Now THAT’S frustrating! In the end, her character is wildly under utilized and seems to have no other purpose than to make Stoick’s death more tragic and show where Hiccup gets all his dragon training abilities from (which is genetic now, I guess, maybe).

Also, both Bludvist and Valka can seemingly control two alpha dragons, but it’s never stated how they both know how to do this. It’s implied they’re both using the same type of staff that they wag around in the air, but where did they get the staffs? How do they each have one? It feels like they should have more of history together than is ever stated. If she’d had any history with Bludvist, then I would’ve liked to see him acknowledge her, or exchange some dialog with her when they briefly face off to tie them together more.

So when I really get down to it, my main problem with this film is Drago Bludvist. He feels as though he should be the unifying keystone of this film, the character that brings the three major plot threads together. Those three threads are: Hiccup meeting his mother, Hiccup deciding to be the new village chief, and Bludvist’s desire to conquer the world. And, to his credit, he does do that, but it doesn’t quite come together in as impactful and satisfying a conclusion as the first film’s finale. I’m mostly disappointed at Bludvist’s lack of a back story and unclear motivation. We’re told that he wants to fight the dragon menace, but that he controls dragons, and he wants to fight dragons with dragons. But then Hiccup surmises that Bludvist just wants to conquer and subjugate people, at which point Bludvist reveals he lost an arm to a dragon attack at some point, thus showing how dragons deserve to be controlled? And that’s his motivation? He’s basically a one note villain who wants to conquer the world because ‘reasons’, and instead of being a close minded counterpoint to Hiccup’s liberal open mindedness, he ends up being just some bad guy with an ability to make dragons listen to him.

I wanted Hiccup to change Drago’s mind about his own motivations, because that’s kind of Hiccup’s thing. I wanted him to piece together how to get this stubborn jerk to be less of a jerk through logic and evidence and reason. But since Bludvist’s motivations are so vague, there’s no counterpoint Hiccup can present that could ever change Drago’s mind. You have to know someone’s point of view before you can even hope to change it. This kind of muddles the theme of the film, which I’m still unsure of. I feel like the series’ first film was based on the theme of open mindedness and seeing from other points of view, and I’m not really sure the second film needed a new theme, just to present the old one in a new way. While the first film is more about being open to new experiences, and overcoming unwarranted fears perpetuated by heresy, the second film could’ve been about letting go of conflict perpetuated by justifiable hate. It could’ve been about letting go of anger that’s actually warranted to stop perpetuated violence.

If, despite Stoick’s death, Hiccup had still pushed for Drago Bludvist to change his ways, had even beaten him in combat and, as Drago lay under Hiccup’s boot, Hiccup had continued to argue for the end of conflict without further bloodshed, that would’ve been far more powerful to me. Instead, the film’s message almost comes off as “Sometimes you just need to fight people who don’t believe in what you believe in!” Sometimes that may be a legitimate message, but I feel like this series isn’t the one that should be delivering it.

Other  thoughts:

Stoick’s death is very sudden and Hiccup recovers from it extremely quickly. The music barely had time to get sad for the viking funeral before it was back to being soaring and hopeful again!

The side characters did nothing of consequence for the most part, other than establish a running gag concerning Ruffnut’s romantic non relationship with nearly every boy in the movie, which never pays off! (I did laugh at this quite a bit, in full disclosure)

Drago has a huge army in one scene, and then the next time we see him it’s GONE! Drago, you forgot to bring your army to Berk!!

The only character with a complete character arc is dragon trapper Eret, who finishes his arc just before the climax of the film, leaving him with nothing to do during the finale (just like everyone else).

Toothless murdered Hiccup’s dad!! I wish Stoick had survived but been incapacitated, and then, seeing how well Hiccup handled the crisis afterwards, could’ve run off with Valka to go travelling the world on a ‘greenpeace for dragons’ type mission, leaving Hiccup in charge of Berk. Then the happy couple could return with a dragon army or something in the sequel! BUT NO HE’S DEAD NOW SORRY.

Did Drago die at the end of the movie? Did he escape? Everything about this guy is vague, even his ultimate fate!

Watching the two Alphas battle it out in the background was super cool.

I dig that Fishlegs rides his dragon like it’s a Harley. I instantly liked him a whole lot more because of that. But then he never did anything in the whole movie!

There wasn’t a whole lot of dragon training going on in this movie!

I can’t wait for How to Train Your Dragon 3! (No, seriously, I still love this series!)

 

Published on by | 10 Comments

  • Liz L

    Must admit to preferring the books to the movies :)

    • http://www.nn4b.com suburban_samurai

      You’ve reminded me that I should really read the books! I assume they’re completely different from the movies.

  • Orekoya

    Can’t disagree with most except this: Drago showed a veritable spectrum of crazed madness. Every character that knew of him basically said he was insane and can’t be reasoned with. He all but outright explained in his exposition the source of his craziness being the traumatic childhood experience. The dragons are living avatars that are giving his madness form and focus to bring about his actions. And I’m sorry, but sometimes you just can’t reason with, or talk sense into, the insane. His reasoning and logic seem broken because they were coming from a broken mind. It’s why I’m glad that Hiccup couldn’t reason with Drago, else it would’ve felt like a cheap cop out and would’ve made him out to be even more of a Mary-Sue than he already was.

    • http://www.nn4b.com suburban_samurai

      Hm… Well, the thing that made Hiccup not a mary sue in the first movie was that he, in fact, was a terrible warrior, making him far from perfect. I do think Hiccup comes off as a Gary Stu in HTTYD2 because they don’t play up any of his weaknesses! Although, if he’s supposed to be a great warrior in 2, they never make a big deal out of it. Everyone seems to look up to him because he’s able to find solutions to problems through logic and reason. I’m not 100% certain what his arc was in the movie, other than to go from wanting to reason through his problems to realizing sometimes that isn’t an option. And like I said, that’s not necessarily a bad message, but it seems to run counter to the first movie’s message of being more open minded and seeing others’ points of view.

      I don’t disagree with you that Drago’s crazy, and now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I would’ve loved to see Hiccup convince Drago’s followers of how deranged and wrong Drago’s way of thinking is, and strip Drago of his power by reasoning with the people who do his bidding. Maybe after Stoick’s death, Hiccup could’ve realized how impossible reasoning with Drago was, and Hiccup would lose all hope, but his mother could realize they can ride the baby dragons back to Berk. So they get back, everyone jumps into the fight to stop Drago, except Hiccup’s still like “all hope is lost, we’re not strong enough to stop this man and his huge army and no one can reason with him!” but then Hiccup realizes that it’s not Drago he needs to convince, but those that give him power, so he flies past Drago and somehow convinces part or all of his army (maybe with a rousing speech) that what they’re doing is wrong, and gets them to hesitate in their actions, or stop taking orders.That would actually be very in line with the themes of the first film: If you can’t reason with someone, reason with those who support him.

      GRANTED, Drago didn’t HAVE his army when he attacked Berk, but I think you get the idea. In the end, Hiccup’s ultimate victory in the film is his ability to break Toothless of his brainwashing, which is so painfully cliche that I kind of cringed. I just wanted Hiccup to solve the problem using his strength of reason, since he’s supposed to be an unimpressive fighter.

      • Orekoya

        Well, they kinda did have that arc of convincing his followers in a shorter version with Eret, the head of the dragon hunters. Honestly though the worst gripe I have is the whole “take care of your own” tribal mentality crap that was spewed and felt so out of place. Even more jarring when it came from Valka, who (however noble intentions) abandoned her own son. If she had to give such a message, it should’ve at least been something along the lines of “There are some things you just can’t fix and those times you just have to stop whatever is causing damage before it can cause more.” It would’ve been the better way to send that message and wouldn’t have made her look like a hypocrite. He could’ve brush it off as the same way saying that’s the reasoning that made vikings and dragons fought in the first place then kept going forward as he did in the movie.

  • Renadt

    Drago may have started with somewhat good intentions, but the problem lies when he learned how to control dragons- by force and fear. He realized that he could also control people by force and fear. Power corrupts, and Drago was very powerful. Drago may still have believed that he was humanity’s savior to a point, but was still consumed by the fear of his childhood trauma, that any dragon not under his control could hurt him. There was no reasoning with Drago. This is also the same problem when atheists debate believers- you cannot trump emotion, and believers are very emotional.

    Toothless was effectively brainwashed when he killed Stoick. He could do nothing outside of the command at that point. It was the turning point for Hiccup. Hiccup was in grief over his father, and deep down even knew that Toothless was under another’s control, but lashed out at Toothless out of anger, the wrong target. When Toothless was captured, however, it brought Hiccup’s focus back to Drago.

    Hiccup had to push his grief aside for the sake of his village. That is the mark of a true leader- one who puts the needs of the new in front of their own feelings.

    • http://www.nn4b.com suburban_samurai

      I would say Hiccup barely grieved at all, which was one of the things that bugged me in the movie. And although you compare Drago to an unwavering believer, it’s never expressly stated what he believes in specifically, it’s all kind of inferred. There’s a lot of interpretation to the film, and not a lot of concrete statement as to what’s going on in the characters’ heads. I think a movie like this deserves clearer themes and a more well realized arc. It’s just a little too muddled compared to how clearly defined the first film was.

      • Renadt

        He didn’t have time to grieve at that point. Hiccup had to quickly put his feelings aside for the sake of his village, which Drago was moving to invade. Drago believed in power, and his power over dragons. This was the central theme of the movie, power versus reason. Another example of this concept is found in Final Fantasy VIII, in the Fisherman’s Wharf. Galbadian forces land on the city looking for Ellone (Elle), and the residents want to try to reason with the Galbadians. The forces don’t care about the residents’ request, and proceed to begin demolition of the wharf. Luckily, Squall and Co. are there in time to save the wharf. Squall then makes a soliloquy about how people like him are needed to protect those who want peace from those who want control. Sometimes fighting cannot be avoided, and some people are rotten to the core.

        • jwkovell

          I’ll pipe in just to say that I believe Hiccup’s grieving was undercut buy the goofy riding on baby dragons scene.

          Sure, the writers probably felt a brief emotional reprieve was in order – given that this is still a kid-friendly movie – but it plays counter to the more expected mix of action-induced urgency and grief-stricken paralysis.

          This is the point where Hiccup could be most forgiven for falling to despair – only to be propped up by his friends. Despair would then turn to determination – not goofy “woohoo baby dragons!”

  • ColdFusion

    I just can’t get past the ugly faces and the doofy babyish dragons.