Monday, August 18, 2014

This is Berk...

^struggling to find the right words to describe my experience of watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 

Today, I did what I did not have the guts (or time) to do two months ago: watch How to Train Your Dragon 2, the sequel that I feared would ruin my impression of my favourite 21st century film, How to Train Your Dragon.

Post-movie, I am glad to say that no dreams have been crushed and that I hope
1) there will be a third movie (pretty please, Dreamworks) and that
2) How to Train your Dragon 2 gets recognized by the Academy!!!

Unless you, like me, have watched these shorts on Youtube, you arrive at a very different Berk at the beginning of How to Train Your Dragon 2. The villagers are no longer the conservative, dragon-fearing Vikings they were five years ago (Berk-time) but happy dragon riders who, like our protagonist Hiccup (Jay Baruchel)  have adopted the dragons as pets and consider them their friends. There is even an old cat-lady, or should I say dragon-lady, who makes sporadic and amusing appearances throughout the movie.

But Berk's dragon-viking alliance is soon threatened by the dark and hulking Bludvist, who has an evil plan to eradicate the dragon race by building an army of dragons and turning them against each other - OR, as Hiccup accurately surmises, by using the dragons' power to conquer the world. Classic.

While Bludvist is plotting away, Hiccup is having a mild identity crisis: he is unsure about becoming chief, much keener on mapping new lands with his dragon, Toothless, AND - on top of all this - finds his long-lost mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), who is as much of a dragon-lover as he is and has made the dragon lair her home.

It is in this lair that we meet, for the first time, one of two beasts whose species is the "king of all dragons:" The Bewilderbeast.

These Bewilderbeasts have the power to summon and control all dragons at will (hence, bewilder). The  Snowy Bewilderbeast in the lair uses his powers to take care of his fellow dragons and feed them; the Muddy Bewilderbeast, however, is vicious, dangerous and the tool Bludvist uses to rally up his dragon army.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is about change: there's Hiccup, who is initially uncertain about chiefship but finally realizes that he does not have to be the same kind of chief his father was. There are the aforementioned Bewilderbeasts who can change and control any dragon's actions. Even Eret, Son of Eret, changes his mind about dragons after Astrid's (America Ferrera) dragon saves his life.

At the beginning of the movie, however, Stoick (Gerald Butler) tells Hiccup that - despite all the change Berk has experienced - change is impossible. Drago Bludvist is quite set on this idea too, and decides to prove it to Hiccup by using the Muddy Bewilderbeast to turn Toothless against him, a tragic move that results in Stoick's death.

Stoick's funeral is moving, the monologues are tear-inducing and everything, as a Youtube commenter rightly put it, has a Qui-Gon-Jinn's-funeral vibe. It's the darkest and most moving moment in the whole movie.

But Hiccup, as his mother reminds him, has "the heart of a chief and the soul of a dragon." So the dragon riders return to Berk to catch Bludvist in the middle of rallying all the dragons there.

Then, in an incredibly moving scene that captures everything I love about the How to Train Your Dragon films, audiences witness the truest proof of change: Toothless fights and throws off the Bewilderbeast's hypnosis as Hiccup says to him, "you're my best friend."

That is how you win the loyalty of the dragon.

Of course, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not without its flaws - numerous happenings are unexplainable (HOW did Stoick find the lair?) and, thanks to CGI, many improbabilities are dismissible (all those insane dragon turns). There are also illogical but hilarious (therefore, forgivable) moments that crop up, such as Ruffnut's whimsical infatuation for Eret. Sometimes, I also felt like the action was a bit much.

Yet How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a maturer movie than its precursor. It is more of a bildungsroman although it has less plot development since the milestones that made How to Train Your Dragon so beautiful and important, such as Toothless and Hiccup's friendship and Hiccup and Astrid's relationship, had already been established.

But How to Train Your Dragon 2 succeeds as a sequel because it takes us a step further in Hiccup's coming of age journey, amplifies an already spectacular soundtrack and reinforces the strength of a one-in-a-million friendship - not a bond that Bludvist and his pathetic iron staff can destroy so easily.

P.S. Thank goodness puberty hit Hiccup *swoon*

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