Bigger and better must have been on Dreamworks’ mind as they produced How to Train Your Dragon 2, an emotionally rich follow-up to the 2010 original. The new film takes on many of the themes of the last — loyalty and self-worth to name two — and heightens the stakes. The result is a sequel which builds upon the last for the better, adding characters and action but never losing its emotional center.
That center rests upon the shoulders and wings of a boy, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless (right). We catch up with the pair free-wheeling in the sky; it has been five years since Hiccup lost his leg in a battle between humans and dragons. No longer to be feared, everyone in Hiccup’s hometown of Berk has a winged-pet of their own, including Astrid (America Ferrera), Hiccup’s girlfriend.
Back on the ground Hiccup is dealing with news that his father, and Berk’s chief, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), would like for his son to follow in his powerful footsteps. Domestic drama gets put on hold, however, when Astrid and Hiccup run into a crew of professional dragon trappers capturing a horde for Drago Bloodvist’s (Djimon Honsou) dragon army. Determined to convince Drago that dragons are to be loved and respected, not captured and used for human power, Hiccup sets off to find him only to be found himself, by the mysterious Valka (Cate Blanchett, below left).
To say more about the relationships between Hiccup, Stoick, Valka’s origins, and the lovable Toothless would be a disservice, but their experiences facing the dragon army of Drago and a new Godzilla-sized threat known as the Alpha form a deep, and often dark, emotional core of the film. At its heart is the notion of power and two opposing views: that it must be captured, and that it must be earned. Suffice it to say that every character comes out changed by what happens and, were we not in an animated universe, therapy would be a must. I was surrounded by children in the theater and while none of them seemed particularly frightened, the moral burden placed on Hiccup by a late-in-the-game twist was undeniably disturbing.
Like many recent animated studio efforts, then, this is a film for adults as much as (or possibly more than) for younger audiences. However, all viewers will enjoy the lush, colorful animation and flying sequences. Two moments in particular, a dragon-hopping aerial ballet and Valka’s initial appearance through the clouds, combined the mystical pathos and ease of the best Miyazaki films with the furthest reaches of animation technology. Cate Blanchett’s phenomenal voiceover work adds aural stimulation as well, and makes for a tear-jerking moment or two. It all combines to make a sequel which expands upon the world and mythology of dragons while keeping the drama human in the utmost.
*It should be noted that the film has slight intimations of damsel-in-distress gender politics (all the more noticeable after the girl-power Frozen phenomenon) and Drago, an embodiment of pure evil, is problematically the only character of color (voiced by the only actor of color). Of particular representational note for Towleroad readers, though, is the possibility of a gay character in Stoick’s sidekick, Gobber (Craig Ferguson, right). Entertainment Weekly recently asked the film’s openly gay writer/director Dean DeBlois about a scene involving a marital argument in which Gobber remarks “This is why I never married. This and one other reason":
Ferguson ad-libbed the second part of the line, and director Dean DeBlois chose to keep it in. “The nice thing that Craig brought to it is, it’s such a hand-off line that I think for the older members of the audience, it’ll take them a moment to realize, like, ‘Did he just say what I think he said?’” says DeBlois. “And then you’re moving on. [The movie] treats it like normalcy, and that’s what I really like about it. Because I’m a gay man, and I don’t draw attention to myself for that reason. It’s just a fact of who I am, and the way the world is, and it’s nice to treat it as just a passing notion that isn’t something that people have to get so up in arms about. I think it makes people chuckle, and in every test screening we’ve had, it’s always gone over really well. I know there are probably a few people whose feathers it will ruffle, but you can’t worry too much about that...”
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is in theaters now.
Though HTTYD2 merely hints at homosexuality, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 22 Jump Street, starring odd-ball couple Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, revels in it. Not explicitly, of course, and none of the characters say that they are in fact gay. However, this very funny, very self-aware comedy nearly perfects the art of the bromance.
CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...
In the last film, Jenko (Tatum, a deadpan doofus) and Schmidt (Hill, a kinda-smart dope), two undercover cops working out of a converted church, took down a high school drug ring. This time Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, hilarious, right) tells them they are going off to college. The film, mocking the notion of sequels, makes it painfully obvious that even though the locale has changed, everything else will be exactly the same as the last film “but with twice the budget.” Holding true to its premise, Jenko and Schmidt must find the distributor of a new designer drug called WhyPhy (Work hard, yes, Party hard, yes–pronounced wi-fi) which killed a student at the humorously named Metropolitan City State University. Hilarity, and a surprising amount of humanity, ensues.
At college, Jenko immediately falls in with the football crowd, befriending Zook (Wyatt Russell) and Rooster (Jimmy Tatro), while Schmidt somewhat unexpectedly finds camaraderie, and even more surprising, sex, with the dead student’s ex-neighbor, Maya (Amber Stevens). Jenko and Zook quickly strike up a bromance which begins to drive a wedge between the emotionally unstable Schmidt and his partner. Beyond this frail frame of a narrative, there is little driving the story forward except for Tatum and Hill’s natural chemistry and a script that is shockingly preoccupied with making everyone around them think they are in a romantic relationship.
Scene after scene, we find the two engaged in dialogue specifically aimed at creating this impression: the dissolution of their partnership sounds like a couple deciding to open themselves up to other sexual experiences, an exchange with the school counselor inadvertently turns into a couples therapy appointment. And all of it is delivered without the slightest bit of irony. One of the more memorable moments of the film occurs when Schmidt and Jenko are called “faggots” after being found in a faux-sexual position and the enraged Jenko unleashes a tirade about how inappropriate the word is: “You can call us gay, sure. Homosexual maybe. And queer, but only if you’re good friends with a person!” They never deny their homosexuality to anyone who acknowledges it, making for a shockingly gay-friendly film that still gets comic mileage out of homoerotic situations.
Other actors fare just as well. Ice Cube has a highly amusing revelation about Schmidt’s sexual history, Maya’s roommate, Mercedes (Jillian Bell), delivers dry one-liners with extreme rapidity, and a pair of identical twins across the hall from Schmidt and Jenko have hilarious mental synchronicity. It’s a great ensemble, but ultimately the film is Tatum and Hill’s, proving once again that they are an absurdly fun onscreen team. This sequel may have little to no ambition in expanding its former premise, but in recognizing as much, and heightening the homoerotic fun, it’s a win.