It’s the end of a great movie series. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the final installment in a beloved trilogy and one of the many highly-anticipated movies coming this year, giving us the final adventure of Hiccup and Toothless. It’s very, very hard to make three really great movies in a row. Depending how critical you want to be, it seems like only Toy Story and The Lord of the Rings have done it perfectly. And now, How to Train Your Dragon joins them, if you go by the critics. But honestly…I’m not feeling it. I think that The Hidden World, while still good, is significantly weaker than the first two movies.
My rating: 4 out of 5.
I think I can sum up my problem with this movie in two words: missed potential.
There’s one thing I think was always going to be a problem for me, and that is the tone shift from the first two movies. This isn’t a criticism of the film on its own merits—more of a structural weakness in the story itself. Once they decided to have the ending be the same as the book series (which shares little else but the title) of the dragons leaving Berk for the Hidden World, this was always going to be an issue. The end of the second film was Berk Ascendant, ready to take on the world with humans and dragons side by side. But in the third film, they had to go back on that and tear it all down. And this was planned from before the second film was made, so it was a very conscious decision.
I feel like can’t really fault it because this was based on the books with the author’s input, but this was a hard turn to make for the series, and the ending clashed with the entire rest of the franchise. The TV series, the specials, the comics—all of them fit the story of Berk Ascendant better than the story of The Hidden World. Still, I think they handled it as well as they could have, and I gave it the rating I did with that already baked in.
But oh, the missed potential. They could have done so much more with what they had, and that they failed to do so is why this is only a good movie, not a great one.
First off, I wanted to see more of the Hidden World. This is one of those cases where the trailers lied to us. They made it look like it would be a big part of the movie, but we only got to see it for one brief sequence. It loomed in the background throughout, but it didn’t play much of a direct role. I expected Hiccup and Astrid to find the Hidden World early, maybe while simply exploring and unconnected with the threat of Grimmel, and possibly even finding the Light Fury there. I expected to see it on-screen at least two or three times, enough for the Berkians to make a serious attempt at moving in there, as they talked about, before deciding it couldn’t work.
On a related note, the sequence where all of Berk loads up on ships carried by dragons and flies across the sea in a massive flock was far too epic to be placed that early in the movie. That should have occurred in the second half, when they were making that serious attempt to move into the Hidden World, or for whatever their final move would be.
Second, we got a great glimpse in the first confrontation at Berk of Grimmel as Hiccup’s opposite. He said that he was like Hiccup (and he’s certainly as smart), but when he caught a Night Fury unawares as a boy, he killed it, while Hiccup saved Toothless. He does makes his point in that scene, but they could have done a lot more with this, and if they had, it would have made him the best villain of the series, but instead, it’s never mentioned again.
Third, the “warlords” (and dragon trappers) Grimmel is working for are in fact the Mongol Empire. Their leader is listed in the credits as Chagatai Khan, the son of Genghis Khan, who ruled the area around modern-day Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and western China from 1226 to 1242.* There could have been an epic final confrontation with the Mongols as the real power behind both Grimmel and Drago Bludvist, ridding the Archipelago of the trappers once and for all. Yes, we see their armada sunk, but it just feels like a sideshow to me. I understand the end of the movie had to be the dragons going into the Hidden World, and they couldn’t do too much to Chagatai Khan considering they seem to be trying to fit the story into real-world history, but I still think they could have made it work.
Finally, we have the dramatic scene where the Berkians let their dragons go off with Toothless and the Light Fury, and this is the worst offender of the lot. It was far too abrupt. It’s supposed to be the dramatic climax of the entire franchise, but it just comes out of the blue after the Berkians won. In context, the actual reason seems to be that Hiccup needs to let Toothless personally go to be King of the Hidden World,** and all the other dragons on Berk will follow Toothless as the Alpha. To really land that emotional punch, there should have been a discussion or at least a speech about why they need to let the dragons go despite the fact that they just won. Just suddenly deciding it made it clash that much more.
Even so, my verdict is, go and see it. Maybe you’ll like it as much as the critics did.