★★★★☆Few could have predicted the gargantuan success of DreamWorks' 2010 franchise opener How to Train Your Dragon - an animated adaptation of Cressida Cowell's children's book series. It came out of nowhere to dazzle audiences to a tune of $500m worldwide with its soaring visuals and underlying poignancy. It's little wonder then that Dean DeBlois' How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) - a sequel that not only matches the quality of its predecessor, but quite often bests it - is primed and ready. Five years after the war between the village of Berk and dragons came to an end, all appears to be well, with Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) keen for Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) to follow in his footsteps.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 expands the series in exciting new ways. Director and writer DeBlois' script mostly succeeds in this respect, with Hiccup facing new, nastier foes and learning more and more about himself in the process, not least thanks to the reappearance of his mother, Valka, whom all presumed to be dead. There's heart in spades here, and there's always time made for quieter moments to ensure it shines through.
The relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, which proved to be the lifeblood the last time around, is deepened (the trust that exists between them during the airborne scenes spotlights this perfectly), and the supporting cast all have their place within the film. The action sequences are out-of-this world, and the cutting edge animation - from the rendering of the many different species of dragon to the little details, like reflections in the water - is a cut above the average. It's perhaps the way in which DeBlois mixes all these elements - the heart, the action, the animation, the expanded world - together that makes How to Train Your Dragon 2 so utterly enjoyable. To follow-up a successful film is a daring achievement in itself, but to surpass it is something else, and that's what DuBois does here. And to think that there's another instalment already in the works only amps up the excitement for how this soaring franchise will come to an end.