How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the rare sequel that improves upon its predecessor in nearly every single way imaginable.

In How to Train Your Dragon 2, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (Jay Baruchel) and his best friend/Night Fury, Toothless, have successfully brokered a union between the Viking village of Berk and the region’s dragon inhabitants. Instead of slaying the winged creatures, the citizens of Berk have embraced the company of dragons – as human and dragon-kind work and play together in harmony. Following their successful defense of Berk against the Red Death in How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup and Toothless now spend the majority of their days mapping the world beyond the village walls in search of adventure, exotic locales, and new dragon friends.

Still, Hiccup’s days of carefree voyaging may be drawing to a close – as his father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), prepares to retire, selecting Hiccup as the new Chieftain of Berk. Despite support from his girlfriend, Astrid Hofferson (America Ferrera), Hiccup is unenthused by his father’s offer – fearing that he isn’t actually the leadership type. Ignoring Stoick’s request, Hiccup turns his attention to investigating an uncharted land – where he discovers that not all Vikings have embraced life with dragons. After years abroad, legendary dragon master Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) has returned to the region, declaring war on the dragon race – as well as any humans that would offer them sanctuary.

Hiccup and Toothless in ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2′

Following on the success of its predecessor, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a strong franchise sequel – one that will have no trouble entertaining both children and adult moviegoers. The film might not be as revolutionary as the original but returning director Dean DeBlois takes the foundation he established in How to Train Your Dragon and layers on new directions for the series story – greatly expanding upon the Viking world and its inhabitants (both human and dragon). It’s a bigger, and arguably better, film experience that features more dragons, larger scale action set pieces, as well as a poignant message on the challenges of growing up.

While the original film remains beloved (for good reason), the core premise and narrative relied heavily on caricatured side characters, familiar tropes of animated storytelling, and a straightforward tale of a boy and his dog/cat/dragon. In the sequel, DeBlois continues to examine the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless as well as the greater world outside of Berk but, this time, the primary focus falls on the young human hero as he confronts one of life’s most difficult questions: what now? Whereas How to Train Your Dragon was an underdog fantasy story that championed the virtues of compassion and friendship, the sequel is a coming of age story – forcing Hiccup to decide where he fits into the foggy future (and lands) that stand before him. Fortunately, even when How to Train Your Dragon 2 embraces familiar coming of age cliches, it provides a fresh and exciting angle through which to explore them.

Valka and Cloudjumper in ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2′

Jay Baruchel returns to voice a slightly more mature but still reluctant Hiccup – and the character again presents a likable and accessible face to the franchise. In many ways Hiccup is a perfect character to explore the challenges of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. He’s a capable and brave hero – one that, ever since his introduction in the first film, had a relatively clear idea of his convictions and strengths. As a result, it’s intriguing to see Hiccup challenged in a new way – having to balance his decisions and beliefs against those of the greater good.

In addition to a host of new dragons, the film also adds several new heroes and villains – most notably the mysterious dragon rider Valka (Cate Blanchett). Valka shares Hiccup’s passion for dragons but also serves as a cautionary tale for the importance of human contact – after she left humanity behind to care for her winged friends. In juxtaposition, Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) carries out antagonist duties – a man that bends dragons to his will, using them as ruthless weapons in a bid for domination over humans and dragons alike. Caught in between is the dragon trapper, Eret (Kit Harington) a sword for hire, with ripped biceps, that is employed by Bludvist. Eret isn’t the most original entry in the series but How to Train Your Dragon 2 makes smart use of the rascal – for both comedic and dramatic effect.

Astrid Hofferson in ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2′

Unfortunately, with a number of new players on the field, many fan-favorite supporting characters from the first film are given slightly less to do this round. While Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), Astrid Hofferson (America Ferrera), and Toothless are provided with a moments to shine, many returning heroes are sidelined or almost entirely absent in the sequel. It’s a necessary compromise, since DeBlois focuses on an impactful arc for Hiccup, but some fans might still wish that other established dragon riders were furnished with their own spotlight scenes.

Like the first film, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is even better in 3D and the premium experience is definitely encouraged, even for frugal moviegoers who are normally reluctant to splurge on ticket upcharges. Animation films usually benefit from increased depth of field but the How to Train Your Dragon sequel was built for 3D – without relying on gimmicky pop-out effects. It’s thrilling to watch Toothless thread a rock formation in 2D but the 3D once again adds immersion that will capture the freedom and rush of dragon flight for moviegoers (both young and old).

Drago Bludvist in ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2′

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the rare sequel that improves upon its predecessor in nearly every single way imaginable. The characters have evolved – moving beyond basic animation tropes for an emotionally charged story that is just as breathtaking as the film’s high-flying visuals. DreamWorks is two-thirds of the way through their planned How to Train Your Dragon trilogy and, after How to Train Your Dragon 2, there’s little doubt that many viewers will be eager to get their eyes on the next Hiccup and Toothless adventure.

If you’re still on the fence about How to Train Your Dragon 2, check out the trailer below:

[poll id=”819″]

How to Train Your Dragon 2 runs 102 minutes and is Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our How to Train Your Dragon 2 episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5