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How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a different film than its predecessor which is a good thing. Sequels should bring new things to the table and never try and imitate the first film too much. With that said, this sequel doesn't do much with the new material and what we get is an average final product. Spoilers ahead.
So let's get started. The first issue is with the poorly executed story. Many events that happen feel rushed and certain action scenes and reveals are given hardly any room to develop. Before we know it there is this huge war that seems to have come out of nowhere. The politics behind the battle aren't even interesting (due to lack of development) so I found it difficult to care.
The villain is about a cliche as can be. Evil name, scars, creepy voice, dark appearance, he has it all. Aside from that, the dude is just boring. I felt that his backstory was lazily executed and his motivation weak.
Minor characters are given even worse treatment, offering some terrible humor. All of Hiccup's companions mostly take part in a strange love battle and that's about it. What we knew from them in the first film is forgotten about; it's as if the director didn't care about them but had to find some use for them.
Stoick... where to begin with this guy. I feel as if I don't know him as a character at all, probably because he hasn't changed much. In the first film he was mostly an antagonist and it still feels that way in the sequel. The dude is just unlikable, even with that singing scene which was a clear attempt to backpedal and give the guy some redeeming features. So when he died, I wasn't sad even with the director trying so desperately to make it emotional. Not nearly on the same level as Mufasa's death, or even Barbados from Antz.
There are some really annoying plot conveniences and I will discuss the one I dislike the most: the baby dragons. So the Alpha can control all dragons but the baby ones. Hiccup says that's because babies don't listen. So if they don't listen, how are you even riding them? It's clear that the writer was stumped on how the hell Hiccup was going to save the day, so what we get is a really pathetic and silly plot convenience.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 tries to be different but fails. I wish the story would have flowed better and that certain characters had more development. The film had potential with all the right ideas, but the execution of those ideas did not work well.
The film started off good showing Belfort build his empire from the bottom, thought that was interesting. Then once he's successful (30 minutes in the film?) it's nothing but two hours of nonstop sex, drugs, violence, and so on. I don't have a problem with this content, but it doesn't do much to move the story along. We get it, they like the party, but must it take so long to get the point across?
I know it's sacrilege to say this, but Michael Bay got it right in Pain & Gain. Another film with lots of sex, drugs, and partying, but it moves the story along more efficiently. For example, when Paul Doyle (the Rock) gets addicted to drugs, he loses all his money which then causes the group to execute another illegal operation. It advances the story and presents us with another conflict.
In The Wolf of Wall Street, there's really no major conflict. The FBI is involved but it feels too much in the background as Scorsese wants all the partying to be the main focus. This then makes the climax feel rushed (if that silly boat scene was the climax). Although, I did like Jordan going undercover and found those parts to be interesting.
Seeing more of the inner workings of the corrupt side of the business would have been nice, but what we get is way too brief. Another issue is that all the characters lack depth, maybe aside from Belfort. It's not that they are unlikable, but that they are uninteresting and don't change throughout the film. Everyone is boring as hell.
There's no substance to the film and overall it's a waste of time. I wanted a story with better conflicts and stronger character development, not a bunch of endless nonsense that really equates to nothing. All the partying isn't even related to the corruption of his business and the FBI involvement, which is where the focus should have been. "We're coming after you because you party too hard!" Also, how about showing us the victims of Belfort's operations, showing us more of what he did? The film doesn't know what it wants to be. A big pointless party? Or a crime film like we somewhat got in the last 30 minutes or so? The latter would have been nice, but instead we mostly get nonsense.
We live in the age of superhero films and recently I've been getting kind of tired of them. Fortunately, Captain America: The Winter Soldier presents us with something new. It changes up the typical formula in superhero films by not being so obvious with who the villains are and where the story is going. It's exciting, complex, and fueled by excellent action scenes and unexpected twists. One of the best comic book films I've seen and also a great film in general.
The best thing about The Winter Soldier is that it's unpredictable. In many superhero films a bad guy shows up, destroys things with some lame motivation, and you just know the hero will beat the villain in the end. This film brings a new dynamic. Who can we trust? What is really going on with the conflict? Things are more mysterious and it keeps us guessing. There's no obvious villain who shows up and says: "I'm here just to blow things up and irritate you!" Which is really what happens more often than not.
So let's talk about one of the villains known as the Winter Soldier. He has a great design and he poses a threat. He's also a character with a lot of mystery around him and it builds up to an excellent twist; there were many gasps when his identity was revealed. It's a lot better and more interesting than other twists I've seen in some recent comic book movies. Anyway, he adds more depth to the film and makes it more emotional and personal for Cap. It's one of the best ways I've seen a villain handled.
Well, on to the action scenes. In The Winter Soldier they are mostly fine. I did get annoyed with soldiers not shooting at the Captain's feet, which they could have done in a few situations. I was also bothered by the shaky camera at times, but it never gets to the point of being incoherent. With that said, Captain America fighting others is a thrill to watch and we really see him at his full potential in this film. I think there is a very good balance between CGI and well-choreographed, grounded action.
The film knows when to use humor but it also handles the serious/intense scenes very well. I always get annoyed with the superhero genre trying to be overly serious by being extremely dark. The genre itself is silly and I think things work better when you know how to have a little fun. The Winter Soldier has some very intense dramatic scenes and I'd say it is one of the darker Marvel films, but it also knows that at the end of the day it's a superhero film; it never gets to the point of being pretentious.
That's about all I have to say. If you are looking for a solid film that is thrilling, unpredictable, and emotional, check this one out. It takes the risk of trying new things and it pays off, making the film all the more better. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a recent highpoint in the superhero genre and it will be tough to top.