It is said that the last entry in a film trilogy is usually the worst. For every The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2, there’s a Spider-Man 3 or a The Godfather Part III. Once in a while, though, we get a War for the Planet of the Apes or a Toy Story 3, which encapsulate everything that audiences loved about the first two movies in a satisfying conclusion. Now, DreamWorks has a new winner on their hands with How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, a film that is not only as good as its predecessors but even surpasses them at certain points. It’s an action-packed film of epic proportions that will also bring a tear or two to your eyes.
While the story of the trilogy takes place in the span of six years, for audiences it’s been nine years since the first How To Train Your Dragon came out. Like with Harry Potter or Toy Story, audiences have grown up watching Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless for almost a decade, and the characters have come of age with us. Just as the wizarding world and the talking-toy world, The Hidden World teaches us that all things must come to a bittersweet end.
We are first reunited with Hiccup and his gang of Scottish-accented Vikings Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), and Tuffnut (Justin Rupple, replacing T.J. Miller) as they raid a hunting ship in an attempt to rescue trapped dragons. It’s an action-packed scene that sets the stage for some epic set-pieces, but also the social commentary at the core of The Hidden World.
You see, Hiccup has now taken over the title of chieftain from his late father, Stoick (luckily, we still get to hear Gerard Butler’s performance via flashback) in the year since the previous installment. He also achieved his dream of a having humans and dragon living together in a harmonious utopia. The problem? There are too many dragons on the island of Berk, which is disrupting the peace and quiet Vikings are notoriously known for. Their exploits have also attracted too much attention to the village, and heavily increased the number of threats that may end their peaceful existence. This includes Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), a ruthless dragon hunter that wants to see the entire species dead and has a particular interest in Nightfuries like Toothless. While it’s understandable for the film to save time and focus on our heroes, one can’t help but wish they had spent a little more time developing Grimmel beyond being evil, even if F. Murray Abraham excels as it.
What does Hiccup do? Well, he decides Berk is not a place, but a people–maybe not those exact words, but the Thor: Ragnarok comparisons are too clear to ignore–and thinks they all should leave their home of seven generations in search of a mythical dragon paradise that may or may not exist. Before he gets there, he will have to face his biggest challenge yet: raging dragon hormones. As it turns out, the gang discovers a female Nightfury who is more than a mere distraction for Hiccup’s best friend, Toothless.
Toothless’ comedic attempts at wooing his newfound love interest is the highlight of the film. The Hidden World, once again written and directed by Dean DeBlois, finally realized that Toothless is due his time in the spotlight, so a good part of the film is devoted to the sweet yet humorous dragon courtship. There is no dialogue, only the dance of dragon hormones and all the ridiculous things Toothless thinks are part of their mating ritual. This is well contrasted with Hiccup’s disastrous obliviousness to everyone’s advice to finally settle down and make his relationship with Astrid (America Ferrera) into something permanent, despite her being as equally suited to rule Berk, as well as tactical planning and fighting, as he is. Unfortunately, the focus on the duo’s storylines means the rest of the ensemble gets somewhat pushed to the side, even if DeBlois tries to give each character a moment to shine — one particular highlight is Kristen Wiig’s performance as Ruffnut, who gets a rousing monologue about how annoying she is that will have entire theaters in stitches.
The Hidden World shows not only the changing physique of its characters and the maturity that comes with it (Hiccup grows a spectacular beard that will become the topic of many hot takes), but also how much its computer-generated visuals have evolved throughout the years. From the impressively detailed destruction by dragon fire, to the softness of the characters’ hair to the fluidity of the dragon dances, and especially the photo-realism of the action choreography, it is all quite exquisite.
Given that each installment in the trilogy has introduced us to a new and better-looking dragon world, it isn’t surprising that the titular hidden world is the most magnificent locale in the film. In an awe-inspiring scene that you’ll want to see multiple times to fully appreciate, the film showcases a Pandora-esque world filled with stunning landscapes with photorealistic waterfalls, caves, and forest that would make James Cameron jealous. It is no surprise to know that Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049) serves as the franchise’s visual consultant when the movie looks this good.
When it comes to the action, The Hidden World sits up there with Lord of the Rings and the third Pirates of the Caribbean (really) as being able to do epic-scale battles just as well as intimate, one-on-one fights. There is no giant dragon boss battle this time, and the film is all the better for it. The battle scenes are as thrilling as they look stunning, thanks to the film’s brilliant use of light and shadow, and John Powell’s powerful and spirited score.
The How to Train Your Dragon franchise has always found the right balance between action and emotion. The Hidden World strikes a bittersweet chord in exploring how adulthood inevitably leads to an exciting and uncertain future, but also how it means that some things, even dragons, must come to an end. Just as Hiccup, audiences will find it hard to say goodbye to one of the best and most consistent franchises in the last decade.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is in theaters on February 22.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Breathtaking visuals||The villain doesn’t get much depth|
|Lord of the Rings-level action||Some characters get pushed to the sideline|
|Good balance between humor and emotion|
|Kristen Wiig’s hilarious monologue|