There’s a lot going on in How To Train Your Dragon 2, which picks up five years after the events of the earlier film. No longer a threat to the people of Berk, dragons and humans now live happily in this ancient Viking village…a point established firmly in the film’s opening sequence, in which a thrilling dragon race is underway. Meanwhile, our hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is being groomed to take over the chief’s position by his father Stoick (Gerard Butler), although he’s more interested in exploring the world with his trusted dragon Toothless. Danger looms in the form of Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a dreadlocked villain determined to capture all dragons so he can control them.
Seldom as lighthearted as its predecessor, this sequel cuts deeper, taking Hiccup and Toothless on an emotional journey that is more dramatic, and darker even, including a tragic twist that might be too intense for little kids. Many characters from the 2010 film reappear, including Astrid, Hiccup’s feisty girlfriend (America Ferrera), and Stoick’s cheery right-hand man Gobber (Craig Ferguson). We’re also introduced to a gaggle of new characters, chief among them the mysterious Dragon Rider Valka (Cate Blanchett), who, as it turns out, shares a deep unbreakable bond with our young protagonist.
The busy plotting notwithstanding, the film truly works on the strength of its terrific visuals and 3D imagery, particularly the flying scenes, which are at times edge-of-the-seat exhilarating. There is both wonder and awe in the assortment of dragons that we encounter, each perfectly rendered and unique. The film also packs some nice moments of man and beast bonding, especially the playful portions between Hiccup and Toothless, who have come a long way since the last film.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for How To Train Your Dragon 2. This is that rare sequel that doesn’t just deliver more of what worked the last time, but forges ahead with brave new ideas.