Picoreview: I found this movie quite charming over all, and a worthy successor to the first one. I had only a couple of quibbles with it, which I’ll go into in detail behind the fold.
I reference a few other links in this post, so look out for those!
Quibble #1: The character of Valka, voiced by Cate Blanchett. While I adore Ms. Blanchett’s work in pretty much everything I see her in, and this is no exception, I have two points I need to raise about her.
One, I found her motivation about staying away from Berk a bit thin. She chose to stay with the dragons rather than return to her village–basically, she chose the dragons over her people, her husband, and her son. And while I did like how she expressed her remorse over that choice, still, it seemed a bit flimsy to me, and I’m not even a mother, so I have no firsthand connection to how it feels to be a mother with a baby. Others who saw the movie with me expressed the same bemusement as well.
Two, while I thought she was AWESOME in her dragon regalia, and how she danced from dragon to dragon in mid-air, I do have to express a bit of disappointment that she was pretty easily beaten down in combat by Drago, and had to be rescued by Stoick stomping in. When I read the excellent review post on the movie at Smart Bitches, they referenced this essay in turn, which talks about how several female characters who start strong wind up succumbing to Trinity Syndrome–i.e., they wind up having to be saved by the men at the end of the day. This is a thing I kept noticing in books I read growing up, particularly Anne McCaffrey novels. So I think both the Smart Bitches post and the essay they link to in turn have got a strong argument there.
Quibble #2: The Smart Bitches review also links off to this post, which raises a very fair point: i.e., the only non-white character in this story is the bad guy. I’m seeing various reactions to Drago; some are finding him ethnically ambiguous, and others find that he definitely reads as a character of color (e.g., the post by Olivia Cole).
The character definitely parsed to me as a man of color, and I agree with the Smart Bitches post as well–because the How to Train Your Dragon movies have thus far been excellent in many other respects, they have room for improvement here as the series progresses. I would definitely like to see at least a couple characters of color introduced in a positive context.
Quibble #3: I didn’t entirely buy how Drago had gained control of his alpha dragon, and others in the group with me expressed this bemusement too. On the way out of the movie we came up with the theory that perhaps Drago had gained control of that beast through physical intimidation when it was much smaller and younger, when he might have been able to get those shackles onto its tusks to begin with.
These are the ONLY three negative things I needed to say about the film, though. And they stood out just because everything else about the story is a joy to behold.
First up, I loved how life in Berk was portrayed as having progressed now that everybody has dragons. The race sequence at the beginning was hysterical. And oh god oh god the faces on all those long-suffering sheep. 😀
Despite my quibbles with Valka, I did very much enjoy her reunion with Hiccup and Stoick. I especially loved how Stoick instantly realized that Hiccup was jumping the gun in just assuming she’d come home with them–and how instead he made a point of asking her. I loved how he reached out to her memories of their prior life together with that song. That was adorable, and watching Hiccup’s face just light up at the sight of his parents together was one of the many great moments throughout the movie.
Stoick didn’t judge her, either, for the choices she’d made. And he respected her authority with the dragon nest, and deferred to her wishes in how to defend it. Beautiful.
And yeah, Valka flying with Hiccup on the dragons, and her dancing from dragon to dragon and sharing with her son the joy of flight… oh god, that was lovely.
Stoick in general is a much more sympathetic character here. He’s progressed in his ability to listen to and respect his son, and overall he’s amazing and noble, right up to the point where he gives his life for Hiccup by pushing him out of the way of the entranced Toothless’s blast.
And oh man, his funeral, with the other characters shooting flaming arrows into his pyre and Gobber speaking the eulogy for him, invoking Odin and Valhalla and the Valkyries and everything. *sniff* I actually teared up at that point in the movie.
Likewise, Hiccup’s progressed relationship with Astrid was entirely delightful. Astrid is a great character in this plot, too, and as the Smart Bitches review post mentioned, she and Hiccup make a lovely complement to Valka and Stoick. I do indeed like the juxtaposition of mature love and young love, here. And I was very happy to see Astrid leading the charge with the rest of the village’s young riders to infiltrate Drago’s army–and to come in by air to attack the army once they reached the nest of Valka’s dragons.
(Side note here: my housemate Paul went on a hunt for toys, since we saw this as part of a birthday party for our friend Mimi. He wanted to get her an Astrid figure. He was able to find a toy for Astrid’s dragon, which, it must be noted, came with a saddle designed to carry a figure. But there was no Astrid figure. THIS IS NOT COOL. But this is a complaint about the marketing and merchandise, not about the movie. HEY DREAMWORKS: toys that celebrate the female characters are required too, mmkay? Get on that.)
Last but not least, the cornerstone of this entire plot: Hiccup and Toothless. Hiccup coming into adulthood is beautiful, how he comes to realize that he’s still got lessons to learn, and how he eventually accepts that he has to step up to the plate and be chief. His challenge to Drago about what it means to earn a dragon’s loyalty is crackling good stuff.
And oh man, the intensity when the captured alpha takes over Toothless and Toothless kills Stoick while under the influence. Hiccup is naturally overwhelmed by this, and lashes out at poor Toothless once he shakes off the alpha’s thrall–very believable reaction. But I was relieved to see that Hiccup was willing to listen to his mother’s wisdom and acknowledge that none of this was Toothless’s fault, since that is critical to lead into how Toothless later shakes off the alpha’s influence for good and in fact challenges him and wins.
The sight of ALL the dragons of Berk turning against the alpha: amazing.
Overall: almost entirely perfect movie, and a very worthy successor to the first one. There is room for improvement in this franchise, ways that they can pull in characters of color to celebrate them too in the series’ overall emphasis on tolerance. There’s room for improvement, too, in the already excellent handling of the female characters. I very much look forward to seeing the third installment!