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How to Train Your Dragon 2: Powerful Sequel
Despite the fact that so few sequels have ever topped, or even matched, the original, How to Train Your Dragon 2 – the sequel to the 2010 hit and the middle chapter of the three-part trilogy – proves otherwise.
Written and directed by Dean DeBlois, the story is set five years after the events of the first film; the Vikings of Berk are now sharing their skies with their winged-friends and Hiccup (Baruchel) has patched things up with father, Berk's powerful leader, Stoic (Butler).
Now that Red Death has been defeated, the island is relatively peaceful, but Hiccup – now a fully grown man – is about to face a new set of challenges as his father prepares to pass the torch down to his only heir. However, Hiccup prefers to spend most of his time exploring the uncharted lands beyond the island with his now-girlfriend, Astrid (Ferrera), and his pet-dragon, Toothless, a.k.a Night Fury.
Soon, they come across Eret (Harrington); a dragon thief looking to poach anything he can get his hands on to sell to Drago (Honsou) – a ruthless figure looking to build an army of dragons and assume power over the entire kingdom. After successfully escaping Eret, they end up finding a dragon sanctuary controlled by Valka (Blanchett); a mysterious woman who holds a deep understanding of dragons and the only person who might be able to help Hiccup – and the Vikings of Berk – fight off Drago's rising threat.
In order to make a worthy sequel, one must first make sure that the story is worth revisiting; the first movie was a big hit so it was only natural that a sequel would follow – one of the basic rules of Hollywood. Moving the story into a new direction and building on its already established premise is the next key to its success.
The setup is much bigger this time and the well thought-out narrative ends up serving as a coming-of-age story – as opposed to an underdog tale of a boy and his pet-dragon – which now follows a young man who is forced to leave the naivety of his adolescence behind and move into the troubling waters of manhood. There are a lot more dragons to play with too and the skies over Berk are livelier and feistier than ever; the animation is refined and engaging and there is never a dull moment.
Baruchel is once again loveable as the hesitant hero and as his tenacious father, Butler – still sporting a strong Scottish accent – is as efficient as ever. However, it's the addition of Blanchett that adds weight to a story that not only entertains, but also offers a few life lessons on the importance of family, integrity and courage.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
Returning to the world of wizards and all things magic, J.K Rowling’s screenwriting debut in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has produced mixed results. Following the massive and the enduring success of the Harry Potter film franchise, the story is both magical and visually arresting. However, although definitely entertaining, the fun factor seems to have been squeezed out of the proceedings.
The plot follows ‘magizoologist’, Newt (Redmayne), who travels the world in search of magical animals in order to learn more about their powers. During his travels to New York City in 1926, Newt ends up losing his magical suitcase – a portable zoo of sorts which accidentally finds itself in the hands of an aspiring baker, Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) – setting off a chain of chaos.
The incident soon attracts the attention of Tina Goldstein (Waterston); a federal agent working for the Magical Congress of the United States of America who, after some persuading, reluctantly joins our hero on his quest along with her mind-reading sister, Queenie (Sudol).
Working from an original screenplay penned by J.K Rowling herself and directed by David Yates – filmmaker who helmed previous Harry Potter films – it would be easy to assume Fantastic Beasts to be nothing more than a blatant cash-grab which hopes to profit from long-time Harry Potter fans. However, although not as developed or as absorbing as one might have hoped, Fantastic Beasts proves to be a worthy addition to the fantasy arena which delivers an enchanting premise of eccentricity and magic.
Set seventy years before a boy named Harry Potter first walked the halls of Hogwarths, the film benefits from a degree of creative freedom to expand on its premise, introducing new stories, characters and an array of magical beasts along the way. However, there seems to be too much going on and the film struggles to keep up with the sheer amount of characters and sub-plots, failing to offer any substantial back stories or weight support them. The performances are relatively likable, with Redmayne embracing Newt’s love for magic with an gawky energy, though the rest of the cast – including Collin Farrell and Jon Voight - fail to make a similar impact.
Fantastic Beasts is an entertaining piece of cinema which will more than likely please die-hard fans that have been waiting to return to the world of wizards and magic. However, it’s not exactly what you might call an exciting movie or even a fully developed one; while it has sown the seeds for the films to come, as a standalone piece, it fails to really wow.