The first “How to Train Your Dragon” film was something of a surprise success. Very loosely based on a recent children’s book series, it was a coming-of-age story about a boy raising a pet dragon against the will of his village. It was pretty standard stuff when it came to film tropes and clichés, but it pulled its story off so well that it didn’t matter too much.
Now, the sequel, aptly titled “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” breaks into its own and creates a unique and exciting story fit for fantasy fans of any age.
The film picks up five years after the first one left off. The hero, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, “This is the End”), is now a man, and his village has accepted dragons as pets, tools and family. However, while exploring the unknown, he runs afoul of a dragon trapping crew and is soon thrust into a conflict that will span from protecting his own home to learning more about his family’s mysterious past, all as he prepares to succeed his father as the village chief.
Like the first film, everything in this film feels genuine. This isn’t a typical boardroom sequel manufactured simply for the purpose of profit; this feels like a continuation of an arc. While the first film didn’t really leave that much room for a sequel, this does a good enough job of continuing the story that it feels necessary to the world. And while this film’s story stands well enough alone to be enjoyable to newcomers, watching the first one beforehand will make the story that much more satisfying.
And, man, what a story! While there are certainly light moments to keep the kids entertained, the plot contains some of the most grueling and heart-wrenching twists this side of “Game of Thrones.” There were moments that even left the audience in tears, but there were also enough triumphant moments to make it stand up and cheer. It feels less like a kid’s film and more like a genuinely epic high fantasy adventure, and that’s quite an accomplishment.
And while it probably goes without saying, given the first film’s reputation, the flying sequences look stunning in motion. It’s one of the few films to successfully pull off the illusion of flight, and it’s breathtaking even in 2-D.
Audiences who go to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2” are in for a real treat, regardless of whether or not they’ve seen the first film. There are few films that truly deserve the adjective of “epic,” but this is definitely one of them. It’s one of the finest summer blockbusters in ages and a great ride for fantasy lovers of any age.