Unlike some sequels that pick up virtually where the previous movie left off, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is set five years after the first animated adventure.
Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou.
Rating: PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.
Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) is now 20, and he and fellow residents of the Isle of Berk live in peace and harmony with dragons. They’ve even turned their island into a paradise for the fire-breathers, with such animal amenities as all-you-can-eat stations, and have perfected a sky-high sport called dragon racing, which involves riders hunting for marked sheep, snatching them from the ground and dumping them into baskets to score points.
The young man who lost a leg to battle but gained a faithful dragon companion in Toothless is too busy for racing; like an ancient explorer and cartographer, Hiccup is looking for new lands and dragons and creating an ever-expanding map of the world. Hiccup’s father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), has other plans for his son, though, and wants to pass the title and duties of tribal chief to him.
"It’s not me,“ Hiccup tell his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera). All those speeches, the planning and running of the village. "I know I’m not my father, and I never met my mother. What does that make me?” he asks, in the key question posed in the middle of what is designed as a trilogy. (Unless it proves so popular that the franchise spawns a fourth installment.)
“How to Train Your Dragon 2,“ from director-writer Dean DeBlois, is a coming-of-age story that also deals with timeless, sprawling themes: aggression vs. pursuing peace, father vs. son, man vs. dragon, animal nature vs. nurture, and questions about whether people really can change.
It turns out that Hiccup’s long presumed dead mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), is alive and a dragon whisperer and rescuer who created a haven for dragons. Just as Hiccup couldn’t cut out the heart of a trapped dragon in the first movie, Valka couldn’t kill a dragon years earlier. It wasn’t a vicious beast to her “but an intelligent, gentle creature whose soul reflected my own.”
Not everyone shares her empathy, however, as a dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harington) and then the villainous Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) — whose last name appropriately sounds like “blood fist” — pose a threat to humans and winged creatures alike. As did the first movie, “Dragon 2” builds to colossal battles with beasties and burly Vikings fighting to the bitter end or, in some cases, death.
Unless you’re talking about ”Toy Story 2,” it’s rare for a sequel to outshine its predecessor. The 2010 “How to Train Your Dragon” seemed so fresh and original, especially for moviegoers not familiar with Cressida Cowell’s popular book series launched in 2003.
Animation, of course, advances with each passing year, so this world dazzles and feels grander in every way from the number and diversity of dragons (from babies to Bewilderbeasts) to their icy or tropical environments. Artists invest the franchise newcomer voiced by Ms. Blanchett with a ferocity and fragility, and a reunion scene set to a song by composer John Powell and Icelandic folk singer Jonsi is as lovely as anything in live action.
Watching the opening dragon races in 3-D, the action moved so fast that it was almost impossible to process what was on the screen. But you don’t need 3-D or even knowledge of the first film to thrill to the story of a boyish, inventive young man, his dragon and his emerging destiny.
Movie editor Barbara VancherI: email@example.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.