Writers: Dean DeBlois (screenplay), Cressida Cowell (novel)
Stars: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson
Release date: June 13, 2014
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 102 minutes
Best part: The wondrous visuals.
Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.
Certainly, Mega-conglomerate/animation playground Dreamworks has delivered its fair share of soaring highs and crushing lows. As critics and filmgoers know, this multi-billion dollar studio spoils its spectacular achievements (Antz, Kung Fu Panda) with forgettable time-wasters (Megamind, Rise of the Guardians) and pitiful misfires (Shrek the Third, Monsters vs. Aliens). Laughing all the way to the bank, Steven Spielberg and co.’s company, at one point, took on a habit of looking past constructive criticism whilst delivering passable-at-best efforts. However, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has rebooted Dreamworks’ once-declining reputation.
Jay Baruchel & America Ferrera.
Assuredly, How to train Your Dragon 2 establishes this studio’s true potential. Catching up to Pixar and Blue Sky Studios, this company’s greatest creation soars higher than birds, planes, and daydreams. As we all know, this series deals with far more interesting winged beasts. This sequel, examining everything that made the original a momentous success, puts the pedal to the metal from frame one to frame…let’s not keep count. For despite the exhaustive number of man-hours and intricate, scene-stealing creations, this instalment successfully utilises every strand of the animation filmmaking process. Before I finish singing its praises, I should describe the plot’s most basic conceits. This instalment picks up five years after the groundbreaking yet patchy original. We are re-introduced to geeky Viking/dragon tamer Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as he watches over the peace-laden village of Berk. Nowadays, he and his scaly friend Toothless whistle through the skies whilst exploring strange and significant lands. Supported by his father – and village chieftain – Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), blacksmith Gobbler the Belch (Craig Ferguson), and girlfriend Astrid (America Fererra), Hiccup is faced with his greatest challenge yet: growing up. In the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood, Hiccup must contend with his father’s overwhelming expectations and the village’s safety.
Gerard Butler & Cate Blanchett.
The original, placing flavour-of-the-month actors in hearty roles and utilising 3D technology’s endless possibilities, was one of 2010’s most enthralling success stories. Riding on the back of Avatar‘s immense critical and commercial glory, the original displayed the big-budget entertainment’s boundlessness. So, what separates the sequel from the original? Surprisingly, this instalment scorches the first movie’s foibles and constructs a more meaningful and succinct experience. This time around, several new and old characters are charged with purposeful positions in the narrative. Here, we have humans and monsters fighting each other for control of the world. Building upon its influences, this sequel seeks to expand this already glorious universe. In its first few scenes, this instalment breaks genre barriers to soar above its twee competition. Introducing multiple plot-lines, the story heartily rushes from one to the next. Tying up loose ends and burgeoning character arcs, the plot divulges into several touching concepts and sequences. With Stoick expecting Hiccup to take over his chieftain duties, the story clings onto several impressionistic and bold conceits. Touchingly, the baseline plot-thread revolves around its protagonist’s actions and reactions. As the over-arching conflict begins, involving notorious dragon hunter Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) and trapper Eret(Kit Harington)’s plans to enslave humanity by controlling the world’s dragon populations, our characters become well-rounded personalities. As familial feuds and allegiance switches rear their ugly heads, sparked by Hiccup’s long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), the narrative takes several dark turns without becoming dreary. Unceremoniously, like with most family-friendly adventure flicks, the messages lumber into frame alongside the final third’s heartbreaking battle sequences.
“This is Berk. Life here is amazing. Dragons used to be a bit of a problem. But now they’ve all moved in.” (Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), How to Train Your Dragon 2).
One of many impressive action sequences.
Overcoming the corny and tiresome admittances, How to Train Your Dragon 2‘s underlying subtext is surprisingly soulful and potent. Giving hope to our fearless characters, the narrative’s life lessons are worth noting. The movie, unlike most animated efforts, touches on several confronting and intriguing topics. Hiccup, having had his leg amputated in the original, now contends with a multi-functional prosthetic. In addition, several supporting characters relate their crippling injuries to destructive motivations. This series, thinking outside the box, relishes in its violent action sequences and tear-jerking twists. Beyond the sorrowful flashbacks and high stakes, this sequel’s attention to detail and sumptuous visuals are worth the price of admission. Worthy of big-budget cinema’s majesty, some sequences deliver pure escapist thrills and heart-throbbing joys. Improving upon the original’s accomplishments, acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins’ influence makes it easy to bask in this fantasy-epic’s glow. Not to be outdone, the intricate animation style develops epic landscapes and a wide variety of dragons. In each frame, dragons, weather patterns, and scenic vistas tell extraordinary stories. Also, unlike most Dreamworks efforts, the voice actors suit the characters on offer. Baruchel, normally miscast, is perfect for this charming and amicable role. As modern animation’s most likeable lead, his puberty-ridden quarrels suit the overarching conflict. Butler’s thundering vocals bolster Stoick’s magnetic presence. In addition, Blanchett, Hounsou, and Harington are welcome additions to this unique franchise. However, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig are stranded in bland and unnecessary comic-relief roles.
Redeeming Dreamworks’ critical and commercial slump, How to Train your Dragon 2 casts aside all blockbuster-related preconceptions to bolster its entertainment factor. This series, breaking off from the sugarcoated animated-adventure formula, raises the bar thanks to its unique visuals, intensifying action sequences, and likeable lead characters. With an enjoyable voice cast anchoring the fantastical story, this tale of familial bonds, sacrifice, and heroic acts never feels like it’s…draggin’.
Verdict: Dreamworks Animation’s most exhilarating effort yet.
Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune
Release date: March 22nd, 2013
Running time: 120 minutes
Best part: Butler as an action hero.
Worst part: The poor CGI.
In the 80s, the Soviet Union (Russia) was seen as a crippling nuclear threat. In the 2000s, the Middle East was seen as a dangerous and chaotic region. Today, North Korea is seen as the most villainous country on Earth. The Red Dawn remake and Olympus Has Fallen contain intelligent and dangerous North Korean villains. Olympus Has Fallen is an ultra-fun B-movie with a taste for violence, patriotism, and theatrics.
It’s a film that goes far beyond its ridiculous and cheap premise. It’s insanely silly in more ways than one, but it relishes its opportunities. The film starts off with four American flags waving proudly within the first 30 seconds. Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) share a close bond. However, their lives are drastically altered by a car crash that kills two Secret Service agents and the first lady. 18 months on, Banning fails to adjust to his new life as a Treasury Department worker. One day, Washington D.C. is attacked by an army of North Korean Paramilitary trained terrorists. Led by Kang (Rick Yune), the terrorists hold President Asher hostage and threaten to destroy America. With the help of Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and Secret Service leader Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett), Banning must tip-toe through the white house to save both his friends and the country.
Similarly to G.I. Joe: Retaliation and A Good Day to Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen is a jingoistic and excessive action extravaganza. It’s another actioner that revels in both nostalgia and explosions. The movie is the best ‘Die Hard‘ flick of 2013 so far. This film has the ridiculousness and epic scale of a Die Hard sequel. However, unlike AGDTDH, the movie knows how to entertain both Die Hard fans and the average cinema-goer. I love this film despite its inconsistencies. The film is much more than just its right-wing and fascist agenda. It’s a heart-thumping action flick in the vein of Air Force One and Escape from New York. Many modern action flicks aren’t violent. They use the M15+ rating to capture the largest possible audience. Olympus Has Fallen willingly pushes its MA15+ rating to the max. The film’s introduction contains a tragic event. It’s an emotionally affecting and tense sequence that establishes bonds between important characters. Soon after, the film becomes even more unsettling with the grotesque and ridiculous terrorist attack. Every step of the terrorist’s plan is both implausible and gratuitous. However, this meticulous attack takes out famous monuments, Secret Service agents, and innocent civilians. Given the recent events in Boston, It’s a sequence that may be too difficult for some people to watch.
Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter) is one of the best action-drama directors working today. He builds character and tension before the spectacular set-pieces take place. His film moves at a cracking pace as the clock ticks down. However, many of the action sequences are let down by poor CGI. These sequences look like video-game cut scenes. Set-pieces that should be thrilling are void of emotional pay-off. This film is a subjective look at recent events. The feud between North and South Korea, and the west, is intensifying. The film gives you a preposterous yet dangerous interpretation of this conflict. This cliché-ridden script is uncomfortably xenophobic and jingoistic. There are many scenes in which the American flag is proudly raised, riddled by bullets, or thrown from the White House roof in slow motion. Major plot-holes and confusing character motivations aside, there are many scenes which heavy-handedly depict American pride and valour. For example, the scene in which the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, whilst being dragged along the floor, is unintentionally laughable. There are also many silly one-liners which inappropriately end important scenes.
“Why don’t you and I play a game of f*ck off. You go first.” (Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), Olympus Has Fallen).
Butler & Aaron Eckhart.
Likeable action-movie characters are difficult to find nowadays. In the 80s, they were either skilled tough guys (any character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) or average Joes (John McClane). In Olympus Has Fallen, Banning is as charming and threatening as an 80s action hero. He struggles to adjust to his new life as a desk jockey. This damaged hero must complete his new mission in order to redeem himself. Much like McClane, he is both charming and vile whilst dealing with one henchman after another. The torture sequence is both shocking and enjoyable; establishing how far he is willing to go. Butler convincingly fits into the action hero role. His physicality and charisma turn an otherwise generic lead character into someone to root for. There are many esteemed character actors peppered throughout the movie. Eckhart is underused as the President. Freeman’s performances in Olympus Has Fallen and Oblivion prove that he is still one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. Yune is charming as the slimy villain while Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster and Radha Mitchell are charismatic in underwritten roles.
Despite its inconsistencies, Olympus Has Fallen is a rollicking action flick that isn’t afraid to be exploitative. It may be too much for some, but action movie fans will have a great time watching landmarks being destroyed and Butler kicking ass. Fuqua has created an enjoyable and inventive action flick.
Verdict: A visceral and intensifying action flick.