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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

How to Train Your Dragon 2 movie review: flying higher

How to Train Your Dragon 2 green light

An absolute delight, even better than the first film; a gorgeously animated ode to peacemaking, nonconformity, and sticking to your principles in the face of ultimate adversity.
I’m “biast” (pro): loved the first film

I’m “biast” (con): absolutely nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The world is bigger on dragonback, as Hiccup — dragon whisperer and heir to the tiny throne of the Viking island village Berk — is discovering, joyfully. And we are there with him in a stunningly animated return to this fantastical realm. How to Train Your Dragon 2 isn’t only a glorious narrative expansion of the people and places we met in the first film, it also represents an astonishing leap in computer animation that makes Hiccup’s world even more touchably real than it was before. It seems like a paradox, but gorgeously authentic natural textures — leather, grass, stone, metal, fire — that fool our eyes work together in perfect imaginative harmony with wonderfully stylized human faces (and bodies) that don’t even attempt to make us believe we’re looking at actual people. The only uncanny valley here is a wondrous place that Hiccup discovers…

I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s five years since then teenaged Hiccup (the voice of Jay Baruchel: RoboCop, The Art of the Steal) learned to tame an extremely rare, extremely dangerous Night Fury dragon, and now dragons and humans are happily living and working and playing together in Berk. Hiccup, now a young man, and Toothless — Night Furies have retractable teeth! — are exploring the world in all sorts of ways. Hiccup is creating an ever-growing map of his expanding world, and both he and Toothless are enjoying the freedom of flight: Hiccup’s halo jumps from Toothless’s back in midair, aided by the wings Hiccup has crafted for his flying suit, are breathtaking sequences of euphoric exuberance. Their flights are an especially delicious treat because they shouldn’t be able to fly at all. Toothless has an artificial tailfin, and it’s only with Hiccup mounted on the dragon and in control of the prosthetic that they can get off the ground. And Hiccup has an artificial leg, the result of an injury at the end of the first film, the presumably horrific details of which were skimmed over (though Hiccup here alludes to what might have happened). I’m not sure I can recall another movie — popcorn or arthouse or anything in between — in which the hero (as well as his sidekick!) has a significant disability that remains a mostly uncommented-upon aspect of who he is, and not everything his story revolves around. Hiccup is most definitely not defined by his disability.

Another thing in Hiccup’s life that could have been a source of contention and drama but — refreshingly — isn’t: his relationship with his girlfriend, Astrid (the voice of America Ferrera: End of Watch, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2), fellow dragonrider and all-around adventurer. There is no third party here threatening to come between them; there is no doubt about the strength of their partnership. And partnership it is, one based on devotion and trust between equals. Astrid is never a damsel in distress to be rescued by him… or at least not any more than Hiccup is a dude in distress to be rescued by her! And she is not at all shy about expressing her affection for Hiccup, whether it’s a kiss on his cheek or twisting a little braid into his hair (which remains there for the rest of the film!). I wish this were not so rare as to be worth noting, but at least a basic feminist foundation is starting to sneak its way back into mainstream movies. And it’s not just about Astrid. There’s also fellow dragonrider Ruffnut (the voice of Kristen Wiig: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Her), whose drooling over hunky bad guy Eret (the voice of Kit Harington: Pompeii, Game of Thrones) brings a surprisingly female-gazey angle to the perspectives onscreen.

Dragon 2 isn’t only feminist: it’s also humanist in a way that expands upon the “let’s be smart rather than violent” approach to life that made Hiccup such an inspiring hero in the first film. As Hiccup’s travels lead him to encounter other people who’ve tamed dragons — or, rather, subjugated them — the story here becomes about struggling to protect Berk and its pet and companion dragons from dragon thief Drago (the voice of Djimon Hounsou: The Tempest, Push) and his slave-dragon army. Hiccup’s father, chief Stoick (the voice of Gerard Butler: Olympus Has Fallen, Movie 43), has encountered Drago before, and insists that “men who kill without reason cannot be reasoned with.” Hiccup is having none of it: he will try to reason with Drago, and will pay a high price for sticking to his principles… but probably not one as high as reacting with violence would have required.

The feminism and the humanism gets wrapped up together in Valka (the voice of Cate Blanchett: The Monuments Men, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), who runs a sort of dragon sanctuary in a hidden place where Drago cannot find them… or at least he hasn’t until now. She is a remarkable oddball of a character, a woman who has made enormous sacrifices to her own well-being and, arguably, to that of those she loves in order to protect dragons, to serve this higher cause she feels so strongly about. Yeah, returning writer-director Dean DeBlois snuck some stealthy environmentalism into his cartoon, too: humans are happier living in harmony with the natural world and its other residents; humans who misuse the planet and its creatures are villains. Flocks of dragons in a riot of sizes and shapes and colors swarm so gorgeously in Valka’s sanctuary that it’s impossible not to get swept up in their beauty and wondrous variety, as Hiccup does. We want them to be saved… and we get powerfully invested in stakes that are so much higher than the personal for Hiccup, or for any other single character onscreen.

It’s ideals and philosophies that are at odds here, that are tested here, if still in spectacular and hugely entertaining fashion. That’s an amazing thing for a movie supposedly aimed at children to do.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of How to Train Your Dragon 2 for its representation of girls and women.

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
US/Can release: Jun 13 2014
UK/Ire release: Jun 27 2014

MPAA: rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor
BBFC: rated PG (mild violence, threat)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Froborr

    Yes, I absolutely adored this film! Saw it the same day as Edge of Tomorrow, and still can’t decide which I liked better. My only regret is seeing it in 2D–so I’m going back tomorrow with a friend who hasn’t seen it yet.

  • My son and I both enjoyed it quite a bit. Beautiful film with great characters, and a decent story. The villain was kind of generic lame, though.
    I also found Ruffnuts obsessing over dudes a little overboard. Nothing wrong at all with putting some of it in there, but for every scene she is in?
    Astrid wasn’t in it enough, sadly, as she is a cool character. I liked her and Hiccups interactions, though.
    I was shocked by a few things that happened! Almost shed a tear even.
    The scenes between Stoick and Valka were well done. That song he sang to her.
    The music was great, but almost identical to the first film. I hesitate to buy the soundtrack.
    I’m pretty bummed that this isn’t doing bigger business. What the hell happened? A much anticipated sequel to a much loved movie, and it only opens to 55mil? While shitty Ice Age type movies open to way more than that? Huh? People confuse me.

  • Danielm80

    I’ve been looking at production art from the film.


    It’s so gorgeous I’m almost afraid to see the movie, because I’ll be so disappointed if it doesn’t live up to the concept drawings.

  • It definitely does!

  • Bluejay

    If you can, see the first one first. It’s not absolutely necessary to enjoy this one, but you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the relationships between these characters and how far they’ve come. (And how far the animation has come, as well.)

  • Bluejay

    The scenes between Stoick and Valka were well done.

    Agreed. The Stoick-Valka relationship was perhaps the most unexpectedly mature and moving aspect of the movie. (Well, apart from The Thing.) And I loved Valka’s design, how she moves, how Blanchett’s voice is a perfect match for her half-feral physicality. She’s a terrific character.

  • Bluejay


    Re: the disabilities: They’re not the focus of attention, and don’t define the hero’s (or sidekick’s) personalities, but I thought it was interesting that the villain eventually reveals that he, too, is missing a limb. To me it’s a visual comment on how war can damage everyone involved, but each person responds differently to their personal damage — some more positively than others.

  • Danielm80

    I just requested the Blu-ray at my library, but there’s a waiting list.

  • Nice point.

  • You actually haven’t seen the first one?! I thought you reviewed movies?

  • Danielm80

    No, I review books. I watch almost every movie, but I have a big DreamWorks hole in my viewing history, because CGI gets on my nerves.

  • Alex GOtt

    hey man!!! Why do you deceive them by giving false information? do not believe this asshole,
    I’ve watched this film for free at


    you can even download it there

  • Tonio Kruger

    There is a waiting list at my local library for almost every new DVD release. There is even a waiting list for The Nut Job.

    Of course, your wait might be shorter if you settled for the non-Blu-ray version…

  • Bluejay

    If you’d rather not wait and don’t mind paying a little, you can stream it from Amazon.


  • Danielm80

    I want to watch the dragons flying on a really big screen, and since I can’t do that, I’m going to watch it on Blu-Ray on a moderately large flatscreen TV.

  • Alex GOtt

    I’m tired of those who pretend to want to help us by giving a false link by clicking on the grounds that we can watch the film for free,
    but in the end we are exposed to computer viruses, if you want to watch this film I suggest to you free of charge for saw this film in


    there you can watch it free or you can download it, hopefully the information I provide will help you

  • Danielm80

    I have The Escape Artist on my DVR. I can wait a few days.

  • Jonathan Roth

    I’m glad I got to see this in 3d: I could only see the first one in a 2d theatre, and have always wondered what I missed with the flying scenes and the final battle.

    I still prefer the first one; I think it’s thematically tighter film than this one. I’ll just have to watch them both another 3 or 4 times to be sure. :D

  • Maria Kadarshian

    may god forgive your sins because you have given me false information!!!
    yesterday my computer a virus because I tricked to click on your link,
    until finally I found the right link to watch this film, which is in


    I just want to watch this film, why did you deceive me with false information? I give
    link right so that they can watch the film freely!!! may be useful

  • Jim Mann

    Good point, though as I watched it I thought the missing limb was more a reference to Moby-Dick. The villain lost a limb because of a dragon and is obsessed with hunting dragons after that.

  • Bluejay

    Ooh, I missed that! That’s a great take on it too.

  • Beowulf

    Doesn’t your pic of the hero look like the pic of Jake G. just a little bit below it?

  • Angry boys are angry.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I also found Ruffnuts obsessing over dudes a little overboard. Nothing wrong at all with putting some of it in there, but for every scene she is in?

    Not saying you’re wrong, but it’s interesting, isn’t it, how odd that seems. We see that kind of behavior with the genders reversed all the time and seldom think anything of it: isn’t he just a horndog ha ha. They also snuck in an incredibly dirty joke with her.

    The scenes between Stoick and Valka were well done.

    Their reunion scene did make me cry. I also really appreciated how Stoick didn’t just assume Valka would return with them to Berk, and instead asked to her. I was almost disappointed when she said yes. I was curious how far they’d take that.

  • Tonio Kruger

    The more things change….

    In director John Ford’s 1948 version of Three Godfathers, Jane Darwell’s character spends almost all her time on-screen drooling over anything in pants and threatening to “marry” one of the posse members.

    So it’s not like such scenes are totally unprecedented…

  • Beowulf

    Boy, I’ll be Great Britain is glad they lost that little family misunderstanding back in 1776. (An “Independence Day” comment from across the pond.)

  • Tonio Kruger

    Nowadays, it seems like the British want to be more American than the Americans. Not that they’ll ever admit it, of course. But all the fuss they make over the Shard after years of ridiculing the Yanks for their obsession with skyscrapers would seem to indicate that they’re tired of playing Greece to America’s Rome when they would rather be Romans themselves. Of course, this is just a theory…

    Then again, they know little of Great Britain who only Great Britain know…

  • Tonio Kruger

    I bet the Romans are glad they gave up their northern-most colonies. ;)

  • And British politicians are doing their best to import all the worst aspects of American governance (like privatizing things that shouldn’t be privatized, like health care). It’s disgusting and depressing.

  • Bluejay

    I’m confused. What does any of this have to do with How to Train Your Dragon?

  • Tonio Kruger

    It’s part of an old Viking tradition. Like dragon-fighting. And dragon-flying…

  • Bluejay

    I have no idea what’s going on here.

  • bobby h

    I never saw HTTYD 1 until I rented the DVD ad watched it yesterday (I had never heard anything about it previously). Saw 2 today at the theater. The first one was amazing. And yes, this one may be even better :) A film lover’s paradise on consecutive days.

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