You can’t really call this a movie review – I’m not even sure exactly how much of the movie I saw, whether it was 2/3 or (I suspect) closer to half. Regardless, I was invited for a reason – that being to convey my impressions. And they’re a bit all over the place.
Moderator Ralph Garman didn’t necessarily do the movie any favors at the earlier-in-the-day Fox panel when, in talking about plans for a trilogy of Dragon movies, he called this one the Empire Strikes Back of the series. That’s an expectation nobody can really live up to, and based on the first hour it’s only true in terms of the superficial details – heroes get split up and we follow two separate groups, and there’s an ice monster. Our hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, which I now know is pronounced “Barrish-ell” and not “Barookle”) has already lost an appendage.
[Note: clip above is an edited-down version of the same sequence in the finished film]
It starts off pretty spectacularly (even in the 2D version I saw) with the Dragon-verse’s version of Quidditch, played by the now 20-ish heroes of the first film, atop their winged beasts who essentially play air basketball using sheep. Hiccup, however, is far away, too serious for all that stuff as he’s more concerned with deciding what he wants to do with his life – next in line to be chief, he’s just not feelin’ it. His anxieties actually lead to one of the best bits of comedy in the movie, as Baruchel impersonates Gerard Butler as his overbearing father, to which girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) responds with a pitch-perfect Baruchel/Hiccup imitation.
Hiccup and Astrid continue on a vague mission to map as much of their surrounding world as possible, but soon they run afoul of Eret (Kit Harrington), a dragon trapper who is convinced this new twosome are affiliated with a mysterious raider who frees all their captive dragons before they can sell them to Drago Bludvist, a guy who is obviously a reasonable, nice human being. NOT! Sorry, but some names really do doom you to be evil. Anyway, Drago’s building an army of armored dragons, while that mysterious raider, who looks like the Statue of Liberty as designed by Tim Burton, is busy freeing them and taking them to a secret sanctuary centered around a giant, ice-spewing kaiju called the Bewilderbeast.
Eventually there’s a division of missions: Hiccup and his dad set out to find the raider, while the rest of the gang, including Jonah Hill’s Snotlaut and Kristen Wiig’s Ruffnut, take on Eret. It’s surprisingly small-scale stuff at times, with not many characters onscreen at any given moment. Then Hiccup’s mom (Cate Blanchett) enters the picture, and she and Butler get a song and dance number that feels weirdly time-wasting.
I don’t really have a final verdict on this movie yet – if it’s really trying to be ESB, it won’t feel complete at the end anyway. I do feel a bit like it’s trying to have things every way – it aspires to be serious fantasy while still engaging animated feature tropes like the aforementioned song (the movie overall is not a musical, which makes that bit even weirder). I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything significant by not following the TV show, but the Isle of Berk does get short shrift so far…one might hope that the way the geography of it is laid out in the intro means a payoff at the climax, though I hope it’s not as obvious as dropping a sheep, or human posing as a sheep, into a hoop of some sort to save the day.
There’s interesting material here to be mined from having the characters of the first film aged into adults, arguably better matching the voice-actors playing them, and having Hiccup actually be handicapped, or handi-capable if you prefer, strikes me as a positive step . I’m pro-diversity along these lines less for PC reasons and more because I get bored with the same kind of hero every time.
I have a feeling Fox knew I wouldn’t be able to make up my mind at this stage, and that’s why they showed what they did. I will certainly be back to see the rest…in 3D.