How to Train Your Dragon 2

Why do I still have no dragon.

Hi all, welcome to a brand new, uncomfortably humid, blisteringly hot week at the Tagline, which is located in a claustrophobic basement that has no air flow or windows or any real environment control other than this stupid box fan I keep knocking over with my damned computer chair. I'm not here to talk about the lacking circumstances surrounding my living conditions though, nor my displeasure with the fire orb that's constantly exploding in the sky. No today I'm going to be talking about explosions that happen in a considerably closer region to our persons. I'll be talking about How to Train Your Dragon 2, the sequel to another movie with that name, minus the 2 (obviously) about a young boy outcast who decides that people could coexist with dragons instead of murdering them with ballistas and such. This lad, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, the Sorcerer's Apprentice) befriends a fearsome Nightfury, that he names Toothless. This creature is essentially what an adorable pet cat would be if it were also a dragon, and so is the cutest creature in existence. At the opening of this second movie (about five years after the first movie, in-universe) Hiccup's home of Berk has greatly changed, as now everyone there has their own dragon pretty much (or almost everyone at least maybe there are some sad dragonless losers off-screen). While Hiccup's dad Stoick (who is Gerard Butler somehow and that is really confusing) is all about him finally owning up and taking his place as chief-in-waiting, Hiccup is less than enthusiastic and spends his days flying around mapping the surrounding lands, and generally shirking his duties. This is sort of a nice sequel setup I thought, because it shows viewers (young and old) something that a lot of movies choose to gloss over. In the first movie Hiccup learns that he's good at befriending dragons, and he is no longer utterly ostracized by his home. That detail not-withstanding, finding a way to not be an outcast doesn't mean you've found your place in the world forever. Not being a disgrace doesn't mean that you feel like you've found your place in the world, and I found that refreshing.

My mom, the crazy dragon lady.
So if movie #1 was a story about Hiccup figuring out what sort of a person he was, movie #2 is a story about what sort of person he wants to become. With the first movie having firmly established the world, the second movie gives us a chance to explore that world, and then get shot out the skies by poachers and learn that a lunatic voiced by the on-again off-again villain Djimon Hounsou and named fucking Drago Bludvist is amassing an army so he can use dragons to conquer the known world and intends to kill anyone in his way. So I mean sure, they are zipping around racing dragons and being wacky at the outset of the movie, but then you remember this is a kid's movie set in viking world, and things get a little bit darker. Which is not to say that this movie is grimdark, but it isn't all butterflies and puppy kisses either. It is worth noting that there is a spectacular amount of inferred (and not inferred) death in this movie. Civilian casualties are high and Hiccup is faced with conflicts and dangers that lead him to seriously question his own beliefs. This is on top of him already being unsure where he really fits into the world as an adult, and not the son of a really big viking dude, spending most of his time making maps. All in all you're treated to a surprisingly sober main plotline, even among all the lighter elements. I also thought it was refreshing to see a movie (not just a kid's movie I mean like any movie) where the main character had a girlfriend and it wasn't a big deal or the focus of the movie, it was just treated like a regular thing and not some catastrophic event that is put off until the very end and then never acknowledged again.

That's how I feel too guys.
One of the central developments to the movie (and this is a spoiler so know that as you read ahead) has to do with Hiccup being reunited with his everyone-thought-she was dead mother. She represents something like the polar opposite position that his father once held about dragons, being basically the dragon whisperer, but at the same the same time her perspective, one of maintaining a hermit's separation from the world, is also not what Hiccup is looking for. I'm now going to talk some more about why I really liked this film's treatment of Hiccup's mother, and her relationship with the plot, and this will cut in stark contrast to some of the things I've read about it, that I absolutely disagree with. For starters, the introduction of his mother, Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett AKA fucking Galadriel) is super duper cool, as she is a mysterious dragon rider in a cool mask with a sweet staff and we know that she attacked a dragon trapping camp and left it devastated (though it seems that few if any of the trappers were killed, and this fits her general attitude of avoiding violence as conflict resolution). Once her identity is revealed, we get to see more of her character, as a nuanced, and damaged individual who nonetheless made a diversive decision, and was forced apart from her family because she was committed to her principles. When she decides to stop doing that, it isn't because she is abandoning her beliefs to play housewife, it's because the place she left HAS ACCEPTED THAT THEY WERE WRONG AND SHE IS RIGHT. Her husband isn't like WELL TIME TO GET BACK IN THE KITCHEN, he is really nervous in REQUESTING that his wife come back and be his wife again. This is made more significant when you consider that this guy is the fucking chief of his people, and also essentially the size of a bear. One could expect him to be a bellowing asshole, but the society of Berk is very radical in their general attempts to (post the first movie at least) embrace an attitude of peace and coexistence, rather than war.

A family, taking care of each other like... a family?
In some ways, after the middle portion of the film, as we move into the third act, Valka becomes less central, but that is appropriate given that she isn't the main character of the movie. She still has an important role, and her commitment to her beliefs does not change. I think it's important to note that she is not wilting in the presence of male characters (and short of Ruffnut's comical swooning over Eret I don't think there are ANY female characters who defer to males in this movie; consider the amount of order ignoring and initiative Astrid shows in her capture of the dragon trappers and tracking of Drago) and you might note that when Drago shows up on the shores with his army, Stoick is the one asking Valka what she thinks they should do, because he recognizes that IN THIS CIRCUMSTANCE SHE IS THE EXPERT. Sure he saves her from being murdered by Drago later, but that is absolutely what makes sense, because Valka has lived her life as a conservationist, trying to protect and understand dragons, and Stoick is a goddamned giant with a battleaxe. It is still worth noting that Stoick can't beat Drago any more than Valka could. I think a big problem with a lot of criticism of female characters in movies (which don't get me wrong, there's all sorts of shit wrong with how women are portrayed in Hollywood) is that people seem to assume that if there is fighting, than a woman is a strong character by being a strong fighter, rather than having the strength to recognize (like Hiccup has for the duration of both movies) that killing people with dragons or swords or what the fuck ever is not how society advances, and it isn't how conflicts are brought to constructive resolution. There is one more point that I might make on the matter, but I don't want to reveal every single detail of the film, so let's just leave it at that.

You know nothing Jon Snow.
What I'm trying to get at is that I think How to Train Your Dragon 2 advances the plot of the original movie, expands on it in interesting ways, and succeeds in not falling into a lot of the Hollywood cliches and pitfalls that usually catch so many other sequels. I think that packing a movie with action and battle, while advancing a belief in non-violent conflict resolution and coexistence is actually sort of radical when you think about it, and it made for a really neat and satisfying movie. If there is a third movie, and most anything I've read suggests there will be, then I'm really looking forward to it, because this one exceeded my expectations, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. As a final note, I also appreciated how all the women didn't look EXACTLY THE SAME.

That's all for today, join me again on Thursday for something stupid probably.

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