'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Review: At Least It's Fun to Look At
Zoning in and out of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is an experience. While you could pay attention to things like plot or character, it’s awfully easy to direct your eyeballs to their fine Viking fur, the wispy clouds the dragons fly through, or the dirt and grass they lie upon. Since the movie never quite delivers on stakes expected of a finale, losing oneself in The Hidden World’s gorgeous animation is more fun than whatever its characters are doing.
DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, out in theaters on February 22 is again helmed by series veteran Dean Deblois, the final chapter of a trilogy inspired by English author Cressida Cowell’s book series of the same name.
In The Hidden World, the once meek Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) now controls the Viking island of Berk with Toothless, a rare breed of dragon known as Night Furies. With Berk overcrowded by dragon and Viking folk alike, Hiccup must find the Hidden World — birthplace and guarded utopia for dragons — after Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a feared hunter recruited by warlords, seeks to capture and control the dragons.
Although fun and funny for all ages, The Hidden World disappoints, banking on sentimentality instead of delivering character, stakes, and story. This is the climax to a trilogy, we’re told, yet nothing feels climactic. It barely feels like a television series finale, let alone the end of a ten-year film saga.
The world doesn’t have to be in danger for cinematic stakes to feel real. Some of the best Marvel films — the standard-bearer for family blockbusters — aren’t the ones with alien invasions or time-altering schemes, but with tension between well-established characters (See: Spider-Man: Homecoming, with Peter Parker and the Vulture, and Captain America: Civil War, with Captain America and Iron Man). At the same time, saving the world would have saved The Hidden World, because things never feel dire enough.
So, I zoned out.
Hard as I tried to care about anything in the story, I wound up more occupied by the film’s fidelity. Technically, The Hidden World is an achievement of CGI rendering in its depiction of a fantasy land and a luminescent kingdom where dragons dwell. I periodically stopped caring about the plot as I threw myself into the world instead. Sometimes, when the heroes got on their dragons, I would forget why or how the story got there and just focus on trying to imagine what the wind would feel in my face atop a dragon. It’s movies like The Hidden World that demonstrate why kids are into Dungeons & Dragons. Imagination really is so much more fun than reality.
Gawking at landscapes is where the fun of The Hidden World ends. It lacks the epic story promised in its title that would keep the viewer engaged throughout. And while its themes of belonging and finding a new home will resonate with any audience, the lessons The Hidden World tries to impart feel as permanent as a puff of smoke.
Because these characters never express any fundamental connection to their ancestral land (and no sense of heritage either), there’s an absence of any sort of dread when the island of Berk burns.
Instead, in this final chapter of a trilogy, most characters seem mildly annoyed at a life-changing inconvenience. Within five minutes, you see how quickly the Vikings take to their surroundings, which, interestingly, bear no apparent difference to the region they just left. There is no actual change or struggle. Just time and plot.
While the destruction of a village is glossed over, there’s generous time devoted to a romantic subplot where Toothless woos a rare, female “Light Fury.” It’s cute — the kids in my screening got a kick watching Toothless dance like a dumbass, and I did, too — but I couldn’t shake the feeling that time would have been better spent elsewhere.
A lot of the blame for The Hidden World lies in Grimmel, an entirely functional villain who clearly should have been the star of the whole series. Reminiscent of Khan from Star Trek II, Grimmel is just the kind of “suave bad guy” with a vague foreign accent that would have made him a franchise favorite. But as his only movie is The Hidden World, he’s not given time, development, or really anything to become an everlasting force kids will remember.
After seeing The Hidden World, it is surprising to me that one of the biggest multimedia franchises for kids today has not produced a single iconic villain. Where’s this series’ Darth Vader? Why aren’t they directing ten years’ worth of aggression towards Hiccup and Toothless? The Hidden World is proof of how a good antagonist can define a stories, especially ones successful enough to spawn a series. This Christmas you’re going to buy your nieces and nephews Kylo Ren action figures, not Grimmel.
There could have been so much more to the ending of Hiccup’s coming of age story. You want this puny guy to become the hero he’s meant to be, and he almost does! But without a villain to serve as connective tissue, or world-ending stakes to define our protagonist’s heroism over nine years, Hiccup and Toothless are just good dudes defeating a bad dude. Cool. I’ve also seen a movie.
I feel sorry for the generation who literally grew up with these movies. Originally hailed as the next big family franchise when the first film was released eons ago in 2010. The Hidden World doesn’t pay off those expectations. Nor does it pay off audience’s time and attention in any meaningful way. Even if it isn’t an explicitly terrible movie, The Hidden World is a misfire of storytelling proportions.
At least it’s fun to look at.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World hits theaters on February 22.