Sometimes you see a sequel so incredibly bad it ruins the first film. How to Train Your Dragon 2 hits that hard. Standing in the ashes is a tired tale of the One True Boy and his Peaceful Nation. Plus racism. Remember Astrid and how much you loved seeing a strong female lead? Yea, let that go. On the positive side, the film is very pretty and Jay Baruchel is brilliant as Hiccup. (Possibly the best voice actor working today.) Oh, and there’s a sideline gay reveal that deserves quite a lot of credit. That’s it then. Spoilers ahoy, my friends, spoilers ahoy.
HTTYD2 opens with a race to establish that Astrid is going to marry Hiccup, Ruffnut is playing Snotlot and Fishlegs against each other, and Hiccup’s mom is still dead. Astrid, who demonstrates true leadership skills, might seem like a solid choice to succeed Stoick as the leader of their people. Nope. Nopity, nope, nope. No one even considers Astrid because Hiccup has a penis. Instead we get a touching scene where Astrid tracks down Hiccup to console him. Hiccup is going to have to give up his great love (exploration) in favor of a leadership role Astrid would thrive in. There’s no suggestion by Hiccup (or anyone) that Astrid is better suited, even as Astrid admits she would be happy for the opportunity. HTTYD2 is set on forcing Hiccup to see that biology is destiny. His leads to the horned helmet. (Early on there’s a quick fake that the theme might be finding more dragons like Toothless, but Kung Fu Panda rules say that can’t happen till the third film, so there you go.)
Enter Drago. He’s voiced by Djimon Hounsou because if you add a black actor to a cast it must be in a… can we talk about something for a moment? Why was Cate Blanchett cast as the new voice on the block? That couldn’t have been cheap. Out of the dozen main characters we have only America Ferrera for the POC side so when they added two new ones the natural thought was let’s get a black villain and a white chick? Could we NOT? Cate Blanchett is playing Hiccup’s mom, Valka. For a moment I thought HTTYD2 was going to really do something and make Valka the villain, but no, it’s the vaguely middle eastern dude with dreadlocks. Valka is a stunningly thin piece of wish fulfillment who has a silky smooth reunion with her abandoned son and his father, Stoick. They beg her to come home, she agrees, and Hiccup gets to bask in the glow of reunited parents before Drago screws it all up. (The film generously ignores that it’s Valka’s renegade actions on behalf of the dragons that turns Drago’s attention to the people of Berk.)
Hiccup and Valka are the dragon protectors, humans who see the natural beauty of the creatures and want to
colonize befriend them for their own good. Drago is from a distant land and wants to enslave all the dragons into an army he can use to terrorize people. He commands a vast force of humans desperate to greet Hiccup as their liberator or something, since they seem to dissolve away as soon as Drago is defeated. Stoick has warned Hiccup that men like Drago cannot be reasoned with, they cannot understand anything but senseless slaughter, they have no belief system other than murder and gain. War, and men like Drago, make good dragons do bad things. They must be destroyed.
Of course, they’re right. (Wait, WHAT?) Hiccup gives a bunch of speeches about his good intentions while his parents warn of Drago’s deep evil. It takes Drago turning Toothless against Hiccup (and the death of Stoick) for Hiccup to understand that Drago must be exterminated to preserve
our his way of life. Drago’s people are pretty ineffective at enemy killing, given the way they fail to kill anyone on actual purpose but whatever. We get a big Godzilla moment to distract us. Valka’s white (good) dragon has to battle Drago’s grey (bad) dragon since all the dragons automatically obey the Alpha dragon (no, YOU get out). Drago invades Berk, battles ensue, and eventually Hiccup stands victorious while the people cheer him. Having realized that his personal dreams (mom already mapped everything) pale next to Being The Alpha Male, Hiccup grabs Astrid for a kiss.
No, but really. Let’s look at how the women of Berk fare in this one. Astrid is shown as capable and physical but ultimately she primarily serves to support Hiccup and get captured by Drago. She has no real goals of her own. She has little story arc beyond serving as supportive muscle. Astrid is a trophy who adds to Hiccup’s standing by being his mate. Valka is weak. She doesn’t try to solve her problems (Hiccup does that). Having abandoned her child to act as protector of the dragons, a role she ultimately fails at (Hiccup does that), Valka pushes Hiccup to partner with her for his adulthood. Valka has a creepy scene where she puts Toothless through puberty with a few careful strokes. She gets to cry a bit while telling Hiccup how totally awesome he is and then everyone jokes about her cooking. Magic Pixie Mom time. Ruffnut is callous, primarily driven by her sexuality and self interest. She is attracted to one of Draco’s men but not to the Nice Guys vying for her. When he rejects her, she sees new merit in loving the ones she’s with. Ruffnut serves as the Bad Girl to Astrid’s Good Girl. There’s a completely bizarre bit where the sexy new guy asks her “Are you coming?” and she responds dreamily “Oh yea, just keep doing what you’re doing”.
Astrid, Ruffnut and Valka have no real conversations with each other. Two of them exist to continually build up Hiccup and the other is there to provide contrast. While HTTYD2 remains a good disability model (Hiccup, Toothless, Drago and Gobber all being amputees) with a oh-so-subtle gay positive allusion (Gobber is apparently gay as well as a trusted surrogate father to Hiccup) the rest of it is a disaster. We didn’t need another story about a sensitive boy finding his true strength and rising to the Alpha Male role of his birth. We just did not. Even more, we didn’t need further reinforcement of the concept that one side is for peace and good and another side is unreasonable evil with no ideology or beliefs of their own, just fear of the dusky man repressing them. I’m not going to bother with HTTYD3. I’m completely disappointed, as was the rest of my group (children included). If you do see HTTYD2, do so for Jay Baruchel’s star turn in the lead role or the exceptional animation. Leave the kids home.
*This post originally appeared at Love In The Margins.