Quick Hit: Continuing to have heart, but possibly losing some of what made the first one so great.
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before – a movie comes out of nowhere to be a hit. Quickly thereafter a sequel is greenlit, and it is promised to be bigger, with more of what made the movie great. When the movie is released, it garners praise for delivering on that promise, but criticism for losing some of the feel that made the first movie a surprise hit.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 does fit most of these criteria. However, one thing that it does better than most is attempt to live up to the heart that I mentioned in the review about the first movie. This sequel seems to have dragons in every scene, capitalizing on the creature craze that stole our hearts in the first one. We have the same cast returning, and all are still tremendous (though Jay Baruschel’s nasal voice doesn’t seem to fit this more grown up Hiccup quite as well). But, as with most sequels, there is the definitive feel of having done that before, and the movie doesn’t quite grace the hierarchy of animation films the way other sequels (Toy Story 2) have done.
Honestly, my reasoning for this is multitudinous. The plot, which revolves around the entrance of a mysterious figure in Hiccup’s life, is easily derived and therefore easy to figure out. The side characters continue to be thrown almost nothing in the way of character development besides comedic lines. Along with that, the villain (if you can even call him that) is a racist charactericture of a bad guy, who is doing things for reasons in his dark past. You know what’s happening, and despite a solid voice performance, almost nothing he says or does seems to really mean anything.
The dragons and the inner story of Hiccup and his father Stoick save this movie. As I stated in the beginning, HTTYD2 manages to almost always have dragons in the forefront. In one sequence in a hidden hideout, there are so many dragons that the screen actually seems to expand to fill them. It’s a beautiful scene that helps to conceal some awkward moments. The relationship between Stoick and Hiccup has grown to the point of adolescent angst that you knew would eventually come. A young boy who has grown to become a natural leader now doesn’t want that leadership, leading to a father who is confused, to say the least. It does paint Hiccup into a bit of a corner with his character development, because where he seemed to have all the answers in the first film for how the Vikings should live, now he doesn’t want to see his vision play out anymore.
I will clearly state this though – I always applaud a film of any type that will wrestle with the themes of fatherhood and the themes of loss and mortality. Talk about something that can rip at your heart.
The film is a solid entry into what is an ever expanding series, but doesn’t ever live up to the original. I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Overly filled with whimsy and goodness, this film is a neutering of the source material, and hangs on due to Rylance’s superb transformation.
Roald Dahl is one of those entries into the world of dark fiction that most of those that have some experience with horror came across once or twice. As a child, I was relatively late to discover the Dahl books – probably sometime in my teenage years. However, I do remember several Dahl movies I watched as a kid – first, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which featured a number of dark scenes (and of course Gene Wilder’s gleefully insane Wonka), and James and the Giant Peach, one of my first entries into the world of stop-motion animation.
What I remember most about those movies is how at times they could be so fun, and then quickly it could turn into something absolutely terrifying. I don’t dream much anymore, but when I do, they’re often nightmares. I haven’t dreamed of the giant rhino storm in the sky for many moons, but even now, despite my adult brain, I can’t help but remember the dread those scenes would fill me with.
Therefore, it’s a shame that often times the BFG heavily pulls its punches when it comes to the more gruesome parts of the movie.
For those that don’t know the story, we’re treated to a Dahlian orphan who knows everything about the world; that is, until she is taken by a larger hooded figure from the orphanage. This is undoubtedly the strongest sequence in the movie, with the BFG slipping through the streets of London, hiding in a variety of ways, nearly all of which are creative. But it’s at this scene a lot of the forward motion stops, and we fall into an almost by the numbers story and plot. We also begin to see a lot of the typical size oriented images that have been assaulting us for years in films like The Borrowers, Stuart Little, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and so on and so forth. There’s only so many times a person can see a little girl in a big bowl and find it humorous.
The only concession to Dahl’s original darkness is some dialogue nods (“The other giants eats beans”) (for those that don’t know “beans” equals “human beings”), and the names of the other giants, like Jermaine Clement’s FleshLumpEater. But we’re quickly whisked back to the landscapes and the focus on the BFG’s occupation as a dream blower before we can linger too long on the unpleasantness that comes with the idea of flesh-eating giants.
In my research for the film, I came across the fact that Walden Media, who has done similar neutered efforts of some beloved children books (like the Narnia films), were involved in this movie. It all makes more sense now.
What saves the movie entirely is the fact that A) Spielberg can still spin a yarn full of whimsy, and make it at least watchable and B) Mark Rylance.
The spy from Bridge of Spies, that fellow that won a Best Supporting Oscar for his performance, is now a towering figure on the screen. All the small intricacies that play across his face are now magnified a thousand-fold, and it’s actually a delight to see. The technical marvel that was brought to screen here is a testament to all the hard work the effects team, and Rylance in particular with his performance did. Otherwise, there would be no emotion to come out of the film, because we’d just be looking at another special effect. Rylance is frequently allowed to play with the fun delivery of Dahl’s invented language, because the BFG has a bit o’ trouble with words, and things comes out alls a squiggly. It’s wonderful and playful, and often buoys the most boring parts of the movie by only listening to Rylance speak.
Overall, I think this movie was made safely to be a family film, and most kids will find some enjoyability in it. But it’s not a great movie, and if taken as a while, is only average. I’m giving it a “C”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
Quick Hit – Matt Damon with an unplaceable accent and a ponytail has a predictable character arc in this effects driven movie.
This is a movie that features Matt Damon in a period piece fighting monsters on the Great Wall of China. That is what I went into the movie knowing, and that’s what I knew after I watched the movie. If you’ve watched the trailer, you know the plot – there are monsters on one side of the wall. An army of Chinese soldiers try to keep them back in spectacular ways, in really colorful armor. Matt Damon shoots things with arrows. The end.
And really, it’s that simple. Matt Damon may go through a short character arc where he generically becomes a better person, but none of it feels like there is any conviction. His sidekick steals the show more than once, and Willem Dafoe peters in and out of the movie at what feels like his own whimsy, seemingly playing a different character each time. There is a love story (kind of) with no passion.
The only redeeming quality in the movie is the effects. The creature effects are pretty good, despite being heavily CG’d. I also thought the actual design of the creature is good. I really liked the queen idea, with the communication through her hood, and her harem of protectors that are seemingly arrow proof. But the whole thing gets lost because rarely do you make a movie that features only on monsters. Plus, the whole thing seems strangely familiar. If you know what I’m thinking of, hit me up in the comments section – I honestly don’t know why these monsters ring such a bell in my head.
I was really disappointed here, and that’s a shame. I mentioned in the quick hit that Damon does an accent, but I’m not sure where it was from. It sounded to me as if he was trying to strip the Boston out of his voice so he just sounded like a generic European, but I almost would have enjoyed it more if he at least attempted to sound like he was from somewhere.
This movie isn’t very good, and I wouldn’t waste your time with it. I’m giving it a “D-“.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"