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By Nguyen Le · June 16, 2014
“Agonizing” is how I’d describe my recent move, having most of it done under the burning Texas sun. That one word also describes how I feel wondering when I can see the next How to Train Your Dragon. Yes, four years is extreme, but it was totally worth the wait.
There’s been many changes since the last time we saw Berk – dragons are included in the population, everyone grows older and places beyond this treacherous rock. Within the latter are faces brand new to the tale, including dragon trapper Eret (Game of Thrones’s Kit Harrington), his fearsome boss Drago (Blood Diamond’s Djimon Honsou) and another Dragon Rider slash – thanks to a spoiler-y trailer – Hiccup’s mother Valka (Blue Jasmine’s Cate Blanchett). All the new additions to the cast prove they have a good voice to act, particularly Blanchett whose stresses and pauses are just at the right levels and moments to pull off as a motherly warrior.
Changes are also seen on the technical front as well. It doesn’t take that long, first 5 minutes to be exact, for you to detect significant improvements in lighting, colors plus skin textures on both the humans and their winged companions. And with tighter editing – there are fewer cuts in action-heavy sequences than the first film – you can now take in all that amped-up gorgeousness. It helps too having famous cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall) on board as visual consultant once again. Another thing to note is that the background can be as busy as, at times even more than, the foreground – a definitive proof of the sequel receiving an upgrade in its animation.
By looking at The Empire Strikes Back for inspiration, Dean DeBlois – going solo on both directing and writing duties as Chris Sanders is busy with The Croods – has made a sequel of the necessary kind. Like every ‘part two’ out there the scale is bigger and the stakes are higher, though chances to dig some depth can be forgotten or ignored. That doesn’t happen here and what we have is a more mature plot with an emotional anchor great in presence and effectiveness. DeBlois demonstrates a firm grasp on other elements as well, namely things that make the first film work: the pacing remains snappy, the style still incredibly cinematic and the humor – especially the humor – that isn’t exclusive to young filmgoers. Granted the story leans towards the color of a Night Fury, thankfully it doesn’t overwhelm all the film’s charms.
The music and color palette also evolve to suit the darkness. John Powell’s score is bleaker and grander than the first, but still so elegant, epic and mesh well with that I can’t help but wonder when he will return to live-action and will there be another Oscar nomination on the horizon. The film also sees the domination of icy blue and shades of black in the new landscapes, very appropriate and reflective of the film’s new tone. The whole sequence at the dragon sanctuary comes to mind – the amount of colors and details are just astounding on the big-screen.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is basically what a sequel should be – entertaining but doesn’t forget to be emotionally satisfying. I believe second viewings are in order…