How to Train Your Dragon 2
Christian Movie Review
When that beloved black dragon Toothless and his rider, a viking-turned-inventor named Hiccup, discover a legion of new dragon breeds in an ice cave — along with a strange dragon keeper — they stumble into a conflict that threatens to swallow their beloved viking-dragon utopia whole. Acting legend Cate Blanchett joins the same cast from the previous movie, which includes Gerard Butler (300) and Jay Baruchel (Million Dollar Baby). Critics have loved this sequel while also noting its darker tones. Is it appropriate for kids? Is it really as good of a movie as the critics are saying? And — also somewhat of a controversial news item — is there really a gay character in this movie? We’ll discuss all these things and more, but first let’s cover any parental guidance issues.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: Two scenes where characters kiss on the lips.
Violence/Gore: A dragon gets gorged, but the “camera” cuts away so nothing is scene. A character is killed by an explosion, but there is no gore or blood.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.
Frightening/Intense Content: The dragons, fight scenes, and life or death stakes are all ramped up in this movie. It is noticeably more frightening and emotionally stressful and intense than the first one. Some of the dragons are quite scary. Characters die, and the death is prominently displayed (though not gory) and strongly felt on an emotional level — much more befitting of a drama movie made for adults.
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Although very well written and executed as a work of art, overall I found the sequel less enjoyable than the first film. The sequel weighs heavier in the emotions compared to the playful fun of the first film — really heavy, like a sopping wet blanket. It’s almost a bit of a killjoy — just noticeably dark and depressing. 80% of the movie feels like the Empire Strikes Back of animated movies (in tone, not plot). And it shamelessly tries hard, really hard, to make the audience cry; it always turns me off when it’s that blatant and manipulative. Also, the overall plot — though filled with some brilliant twists that lead to a spectacular ending — was not nearly as original as the first film. It’s a semi-stale rehash of so many movies before it that I rolled my eyes a few times. What pushed me to do that, I think, was the film’s preachy tone. Christian movies always get a bad reputation for being too in-your-face preachy with whatever moral they contain. Well, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is just as pushy at times. It’s as subtle as a viking plundering a village.
All of that being said, it’s still an entertaining movie that is a cut above your average film. It simply has the bad luck of following after the first film, which was absolutely superb. As sequels go, it is far better than most in an industry where the second film is usually the dud.
In our culture, the worldview of naturalism states that there is no God, no spiritual beings — nothing but the physical matter around us. In this worldview, people often conclude, and understandably so, that if there is no God or spiritual life beyond physical matter, the highest good that we could hope to achieve is a combination of world peace (peace being defined as the absence of physical violence) and total harmony with the natural environment. In this naturalistic atheism, the environment takes the place of God. Man is not created in the image of God, therefore man has no right to claim a special value or position above the natural environment and, in fact, the environment is seen as a much more valuable thing than the human race. Humans should thus become subservient to the environment and worship it as supreme.
This worldview is effectively projected into the How to Train Your Dragon universe — especially in this sequel. Other than a character saying, “oh gods,” and the brief allusion to Norse mythology during a funeral rite, their world is devoid of any spiritual reality — even a pagan one. The highest ideals are peace (ceasing of violence) and harmonious co-existence with the environment (dragons). Man is certainly not created in the image of any god — not even Thor (sorry, Chris Hemsworth) — and the dragons are, in one scene, described as having souls just like the people. The natural world and its creatures are, therefore, on par with humans.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the movie. It’s just something to be aware of, and it’s something to discuss with your kids if you go see it with them, so they can discern the worldviews that the filmmakers are using.
Like any movie, the story contains a mix of worldviews mashed together. This film presents the “might makes right” worldview — the same relativistic philosophy that Mussolini used to justify his actions in WWII, for example — as something exceedingly stupid. The movie is clear: might does not make right. The script does a nice job of exposing the fallacy of this worldview.
And, yes, there is a gay character in this movie. At one point, a character says, “And that’s why I never married.” And then you think the scene is going to cut and move on to another shot — mainly because the line, “And that’s why I never married” is a punchline that makes the audience laugh; but the film awkwardly stays on the character and protracts the line with another sentence: “That… [looks coyly at the camera]…and another reason,” he says. The implication is clear that he’s saying he’s gay. It seemed forced. It was so blatant about what it was trying to do that it would not have felt any less awkward — as far as the craft and flow of the film making — if someone had stopped the movie, turned the lights up, came out with a microphone in front of the movie theater, and said, “Hi, everyone, I’m Bob the VP of Public Relations for DreamWorks, and I want you all to know that as a company we openly support the agenda of gay activists, and this scene here is supposed to express that. Okay? Great, thanks for listening. Now, back to the movie. Enjoy!”
The odd mash-up of trendy Hollywood worldviews and contemporary hot-button topics transported into a universe with vikings and dragons made the movie lose some of its entertainment value. It made the world inhabited by Hiccup and Toothless seem like a thinly veiled projection of 21st century American culture, and it’s hard to escape into the fun, imaginative world of the film with all of those messages hanging over your head with all the subtlety of a 200 ton dragon.
Besides that, the film is much darker and sorrowful than the first one, though — without giving spoilers away — the twists and turns at the end worked really well. Also, the movie has some great secondary themes of self-sacrifice and the true purpose of leadership: serving others and laying down your life for the people you lead.
However, compared to the first one, this sequel is more of a mixed bag.