PG. Despite being mostly about violence for the entire movie, it's PG. What was I expecting? It doesn't really deserve a PG-13 rating, but I do really want to stress that the How to Train Your Dragon series seems kind of bent on violence to a certain extent. It plays up the action elements of kids' storytelling. There's actual peril throughout. The villain seems pretty villainous. There are a few fakeouts for how scary things can get. But ultimately, these moments provide catharsis by revealing the truth and good nature of the protagonists. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Dean DeBlois
I feel terrible. One of my students is obsessed with the How to Train Your Dragon series. I wasn't going to watch this movie, mainly because I only thought that the first movie was "fine." I completely skipped the second entry in the series. I watched this because it was up for Best Animated Feature (over Frozen II!) I try to watch everything, but I also broke a rule to get this movie. I mentioned that I skipped the second entry. I've only done that one other time before and that's when I was stuck at a movie theater and the only thing playing was Transformers 3. I think it was that moment that I really galvanized my guideline into a rule about seeing the second entry. Regardless, I don't know if I get it.
I jump back and forth about the role of entries in a franchise. I'm writing in an era where Avengers: Endgame somehow pulled off being the most satisfying sequel of all time. I know, you are fighting for The Empire Strikes Back or The Godfather: Part II. I don't blame you, because that's kind of my point. Both Empire and Godfather II stand up as movies on their own. They are fully realized movies in their own right. While the experience watching either of these movies may be enhanced by seeing the previous entry, they kind of stand on their own two legs. Endgame doesn't really do that. Endgame is all about rewarding what came before. Not only is it a direct sequel to Avengers: Infinity War, but it is a sequel to a really huge franchise before that. But that's my point. If Empire is the best standalone sequel and Endgame is the best dependent sequel, I'm not sure where The Hidden World really falls.
I figured out everything that I needed to know pretty quickly on in the movie. Despite not seeing the second entry, there was no question about the dynamics of the characters or what had transpired in the previous film. I thought for sure that I would need to hit up a Wikipedia entry or something. Nah, it does a great job of catching me up. But what I didn't get was the emotional importance of these characters. That might be on me. Partially, it has to be on me because it was my responsibility to watch the previous entry. But the biggest flaw that The Hidden World has for it is the communication that anything in this movie that happens matters.
The movie expects me to love a lot about the world of How to Train Your Dragon. I don't. Aesthetically, it's fine. But the movie is ultimately an action movie without a lot of ties to higher themes. Oh, sure. The movie verbalizes Hiccup's concerns about leadership. But a lot of that comes from backpedaling the character a bit. I can say that I've seen the first movie, and that character flaw is teased there as well. The first movie really drives home the fact that no one takes Hiccup seriously. Now that time has passed and Hiccup has become the leader of the clan (which I assume happened in the second movie), he still has the same doubts. To a certain extent, I respect that choice in character development. It isn't pulling anything out of the blue. Instead, that is somewhat of a character arc. But it also feels like it is going back to the same well. Hiccup should be facing new problems now that he's the leader. Maybe tease something about missing the anonymity of being a regular guy. Maybe leadership itself isn't rewarding. Instead, it's all about that doubt that we've seen in entries from the past.
So when a character has been backpedaled in development a bit and the rest of the movie is just action, we have to start looking at beats that really define the movie. Toothless falling in love with his female doppleganger has been done since the dawn of time. It's the safe route to go. The theme of having to grow up is there, but I kind of read it as a ploy to not have to make any more How to Train Your Dragon movies. The series really feels like it is solidly locking down that this is the end of the series, unless the film decides to go with Hiccup's kids. (Great. I just solved a problem for DreamWorks. I expect to see my check in the mail any day.)
But the big problem is that The Hidden World is just plain old boring. The movie teases a villain that I placed money on that he was being played by Javier Bardem. The character was the archetype of the same villain as Skyfall. Heck, let's go beyond archetype. F. Murray Abraham is doing a straight up impression of Javier Bardem's villain from Skyfall. It's so boring. The villain in Skyfall? He was great. He was an honestly scary villain and I felt like Bond might have actually died in that movie. It was the 20th film in the series on the 50th anniversary. But Grimmel was a carbon copy. He's this guy who can plan five steps ahead of you and you can't possibly fight him. But you know how they beat him? Their plan just worked. What happened to being five steps ahead? Also, he's a kids' movie villain.
For closing up a franchise, why have a villain that isn't connected to the hero? He's so generic and so throwaway that it kind of ruins the movie as a whole. The movie threatens a villain that is able to tear down the whole establishment. He's just a guy who is better at his job than the other villains. But he doesn't really make people question the moral center of this world. He's just...a guy. That means all of the action is ultimately useless. Think of all the great villains in film history. The threat has to go beyond the external threat. The most that Hiccup has to deal with is a little doubt about his ability to lead and beat the villain. But Hiccup is ultimately the same Hiccup before this event as he is after and that's all because the villain is super dumb.
I hate to be dogging on this movie because its biggest problem is that I'm not the audience for the movie. It has things that really appeals to die hard fans, but does almost nothing for a general audience. My kids liked the action and the the animation, but I don't know if they grew at all with this movie. There's little artistic to it. It seems like it's just a fun movie, only I didn't find it to be fun. There's so much action that it actually gets to be kind of dull. I never felt like characters were in peril, which makes the action kind of vapid. I don't like dunking on movies. When I saw that this was an Academy Award nominated movie, I got really excited to see it. But then I realized that this is inferior to other movies that came out this year. I straight up don't like it. The only thing that is positive is my kids like violence.
Wait, is that positive?
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.