Sunday, September 21, 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2

Well, I'm confused. When this sequel to (what else) How To Train Your Dragon first emerged, I was pretty sure it hadn't gotten good reviews from audiences or critics. Not bad ones, but just marginally acceptable ones. I checked again right before taking the Barbarienne to see it and the RT score was 92/92!

But having seen it? Meh.

It's not that there's anything wrong with it, exactly. Or there is, but...well, it's weird. It's not as funny as the first one, now that I think about it. But let me start from the beginning:

HTTYD2 starts about five years after the first installation, which is cool. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is grown-up (still going by "Hiccup", though, of course), and looking at a marriage with Astrid (America Ferrara) and, less enthusiastically, toward being the chief in place of his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler).

Hiccup is more into exploring, however, and this creates a tension between him and his father, who's come around to having a lot of respect for the boy. This part is also good.

This reveals the new menace and antagonists for this film. This part feels a little familiar, but, okay.

Then—and this is in the trailer—Hiccup finds...his mother. That's when things get weird.

I'm not going to go into detail because, like I said, this has rather high ratings, with some people considering it better than the first, but for me this had two problems that got increasingly problematic and kept me from engaging very seriously with this.

First, the story ends up being very, very similar to the previous film. In fact, it's close enough to the first one to where you have to wonder—hell, you have to conclude that the Vikings in the first film had it right: All dragons should be destroyed.

I mean, obviously, you're not supposed to come to that conclusion, but, as we frequently note here at the Bitmaelstrom, a lot of these kidflix are based on premises that don't bear close scrutiny and can't really withstand much in the way of deep development.

It doesn't mean a movie's gonna be bad, and if we're being fair, kidflix have a better track record for sequels than just about anything. But this movie really dares you to overlook the problems suggested by rubbing your nose in them.

Especially with the second major problem: The introduction of Hiccup's mother (Cate Blanchett) into the storyline. Now, I know that there's a series of books on which this based, sorta, but I'm guessing this is just some serious retconning: Unplanned changes to history in order to come up with interesting material for a sequel.

The weird thing is that it's not done badly in and of itself: The scenes with Valka (his mother) and Stoick and Hiccup are emotionally affecting in a deeper way than (e.g.) the first movie dared to go. Or most kid movies. Maybe because it's not entirely appropriate?

Appropriate or not, here, it's really...weird. It raises a whole bunch of questions it can't possibly answer satisfactorily. And it ties into the first problem about the nature of the dragons.

It just didn't add up, not at all. So, even though effectively done, it didn't feel earned. What's the word for that? Kitsch?

This is compounded by a major character death toward the end of the movie that feels really cheap, like the the death had to happen for narrative reasons, when it would've been much more interesting (if more challenging) to deal with the story without the death.

I don't know. People like it. A lot, even. Heck, The Barb liked it, and that's all that matters. Intriguingly, she liked Rio 2 better, and she didn't like Rio 2 very much. (Apparently, birds trump dragons. Who knew?)

Kit Harrington, of the "Game of Thrones" series, has a kind of interesting role as a caddish rogue, but it never really gets developed.

So, I don't get it. Unless people are still impressed by extensive "whoosh" scenes where people ride around on dragons in "thrilling" fashion, I can't figure out why people dig this and I don't.

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