How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: June 13, 2014
Director: Jean DeBlois

Five years have gone by on the Viking island of Berk since the heroic deeds of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless resulted in the once-feared beasts becoming allies and pets. During a training flight to help train Toothless to maneuver better, Hiccup discovers a sect of dragon hunters who are led by the insane Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who has a desire to subjugate dragons at any cost, including all-out war.  Add that to pressures from his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) to take on the throne and the appearance of a mysterious dragon rider who steals dragons in the night and young Hiccup certainly has his hands full.

This is obviously a sequel and I loved How To Train Your Dragon so much that it was out of the question for me to miss this movie. I haven’t read the books by Cressida Cowell, but I hope to check them out soon.

The animation, as always, was fantastic. Toothless has never been cuter and there were some new things to look at in the form of new armor, new weapons and new dragons. All the old cast has returned including the aforementioned Hiccup and Stoick, and aside from the sinister Drago there are a handful of new characters as well.

The best part of this film is that it has more complexity to it than the original. In the last one, both Hiccup and Toothless were younger. Though it’s only five years that have gone by, the characters have grown. As a result, the mood of this sequel is a bit darker than the previous entry. There are darker themes and concepts and I think it provides a richer film experience. The relationships between characters have also grown, with Stoick becoming warmer toward Hiccup as well as Astrid and Hiccup being more mature in their romantic relationship – which is not overdone and sappy but you can still tell how much they care for one another. Hiccup’s mother is introduced, as well – which provides for a new dynamic between Hiccup and his parents. (Not giving anything away…it’s in the trailer.)

There were a couple of things I felt could have been improved, but they are sort of trifling. It was a bit too long for my tastes, and the pacing felt chunky at times but mostly because of all the interwoven narratives happening simultaneously. I took my young nephew and he sort of needed to get up and move around before the movie had ended, so watch out if you bring the kiddos. It may be too long for them to sit still. However, with all the cool dragons flying around on screen it’s hard for anyone to not be captivated.

Overall it was a great film and a sequel that I believe is mostly superior to the original, which is rare in many cases. It’s fun, it’s rich, it’s exciting. It’s definitely an adventure.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For How To Train Your Dragon 2

 

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Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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Faced with cleaning up Asgard after Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) treachery in the first Thor film and in The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has a huge task ahead before he can be with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) on Earth. Between Thor and his flame on Midgard (Earth) stands Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and the remnants of the Dark Elves, who want to return the universe to darkness. With Odin (Anthony Hopkins) wanting to step down from the throne and his brother Loki imprisoned, Thor must find the strength to stop the Dark Elf threat and return order to Asgard once and for all.

The tricky thing about making a Thor film is to not make it like a Superman film. Unfortunately, while this wasn’t the worst film I’ve seen….it’s just not unique enough to truly set it apart from other superhero films in the genre and it’s definitely not different enough from Man of Steel to set it apart from DC Comics’ much more popular, titular character.

The comic book version of Thor really is interesting. He’s noble and follows a code of honor but can also be a real misogynistic asshole. I mean, he’s a viking. He’s a demigod. He’s a womanizing tough guy with a heart of gold, somehow. So what we have in the movie version is a lame, good-looking, soft, warrior-archetype Superman clone with a hammer and an accent.

While I love Natalie Portman, her character in this film (and in the first) is mostly superfluous and unnecessary. It’s a way to tie him to Midgard, but the chemistry and connection between Thor and Jane doesn’t really exist on-screen and so when Thor wants to return to Earth to be with her, it’s just not believable. They should have focused more on his relationship with Sif (who is much more interesting than Jane, and a much stronger woman character). Whatever time Sif and Thor share onscreen is more dramatic and poignant than time spent between Jane and Thor. (I also want to note that people think Jane’s character is a sexist trope, but Thor is a demigod. She’s meant to be smitten by him. Guys would be equally as smitten by Sif if she showed up, as long as she didn’t disembowel them.)

Thor: The Dark World had the promise of being a more rich and intensive film experience than the first film, but really….it sort of fell short. Loki was the one saving grace of the film, not only because Hiddleston is a fantastic actor but because Loki’s character is allowed to roam free in the realm of human morality. Thor has that ability, too. He’s not just a jock with a hammer. He’s not just an alien demigod with a penchant for eating mutton and bedding babes. He’s Thor. He’s badass. Too bad he really wasn’t in this film.

It’s worth seeing at least once to complete the Avengers tie-ins (and it IS Thor), and there’s kind of a weird/creepy/unexpected cameo bit after the credits with someone you wouldn’t expect to see in a Marvel film. It just should’ve been better.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Northlanders: The Cross And The Hammer (2009)

Northlanders: The Cross And The Hammer (2009)

Publisher: Vertigo
Creative Team: Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly

Set in Viking-era Ireland, Northlanders Book Two: The Cross And The Hammer, collects issues #11-16 of the DC/Vertigo comic book series written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo) and illustrated by Ryan Kelly (Lucifer, The New York Four).

It is 1014 in Viking-occupied Ireland. One lone man, only known as Magnus, refuses to bow to the will of the Viking overlords and is leaving a bloody trail of insurgency in his wake. Magnus has no ties, no weaknesses, nothing to lose…except his daughter Brigid. Magnus’ killing spree and defiance catches the attention of Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson, a forensic specialist and confidant of the King who becomes obsessed with finding Magnus and ending his uprising.

When it becomes apparent that the only way to draw Magnus out of hiding is to provoke him by senselessly murdering innocent Irish families, it sends the two foes into a circle of psychological warfare and intrigue.

I was really looking forward to this volume after having already read Northlanders: Sven The Returned, which was amazing…so maybe my hopes were a little too high.

First off, don’t get me wrong. I would rather read this volume than not read this volume. Northlanders is a great series, and Brian Wood is doing some great stuff. Even the premise of the arc in this volume is decent and had me intrigued, but it all ended up falling a little flat.

Ryan Kelly is a great artist but I was honestly, the entire time, comparing his style (without meaning to) to Davide Gianfelice’s, who did the art for the issues collected in the first volume. In some ways, Kelly’s artwork is better for this Irish story but in others it just doesn’t feel up to par. There was nothing wrong for it save for the flavor, and despite some great splash page work some of it seemed a bit cartoony.

On top of that, I was sort of brought out of the story some by the way Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson spoke/wrote in the way that you might see a character do on an episode of CSI. I kept thinking to myself “This is so modern sounding. WTF is going on here?

Another thing to watch out for is the twist ending. It seems to be all the rage nowadays to give a twist ending on everything, but I don’t think they had to do so, here. It wasn’t super-compelling as it was and then to sort of glaze over it all with a twist ending such as the one found within the pages of this TPB, it just dulled everything down even more.

Overall, I wouldn’t miss this entry into the series, but it could have been much better. I hear that Volume III is, indeed, much better…so I’ll have to check it out. So, give this a read if you follow along but I’m not so sure this will be a favored volume in the series.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Here’s A Sample Page From Northlanders, Vol. 2: The Cross And The Hammer
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Northlanders: Sven The Returned (2008)

Northlanders: Sven The Returned (2008)

Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Creative Team: Brian Wood, Massimo Carnevale, Davide Gianfelice

Set in Viking-era Scotland, Northlanders: Volume One (Sven The Returned) collects issues 1-8 of the DC/Vertigo comic series written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo) and illustrated by Davide Gianfelice (Dylan Dog).

Sven, as a boy, abandons his roots and is sold as a slave, ending up in Constantinople where he is freed. However, he longs to return home and finds that his uncle, the evil and cowardly Gorm, has subjected the people and stolen his inheritance. Sven becomes a one-man army in his quest to get back what is rightfully his, and he will turn the white, icy tundra red with the blood of any who stand in his way….but at what cost?

I just finished reading the first issue of Helheim (My review of Helheim is linked there) and while I liked it, a lot of it felt like fluff. Northlanders is definitely not fluff. It is gritty, filled with blood and greed and sex and you will find yourself glad that you were not alive to see such times.

Brian Wood weaves a great story around a would-be-unsympathetic character and somehow makes him likable. The art by Davide Gianfelice is AMAZING, though, and the two of them work miracles together with this series. A guy at the comic store recommended this to me along with Helheim and I’m glad he did. I will definitely be picking up the second volume when I can.

If you like Viking lore or medieval fantasy or action, you need to give this a try. It’s great.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Here’s a sample page from Northlanders: Sven The Returned

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Helheim Issue One (March 2013)

Helheim Issue One (March 2013) Publisher: Oni Press
Creative Team: Cullen Bunn, Joelle Jones

A small viking settlement is under attack by savage wild men and supernatural creatures. A small band of viking warriors is all that protects the village from gruesome death and destruction. During a raid, Rikard – one of their best warriors – is cut down but finds himself resurrected by the power of a witch. Now, he will stand against the dark with abilities far more powerful than any normal man.

The guy at the comic store recommended this to me and I like anything viking-related, so I was like “Sure, I’ll give this one a shot”. First off, the artwork was pretty decent. Joelle Jones did the awesome, very-stylistic illustrations. Nick Filardi used muted colors that suited the mood well. Lettering was by Ed Brisson, and I found no problems with it. It was only the first issue so it was really hard to tell whether or not I liked the writing by Cullen Bunn. The story seemed clear enough, but I think I will need to go through the entire arc to judge that.

Overall, for a first issue, it had me somewhat intrigued but the end was sort of anti-climactic. Rikard should have been showcased on the last page much better than he was, but he wasn’t. Ah, well. It was a fun viking romp, for sure, but so far it doesn’t seem to stand out especially well. We’ll see what the future holds for this series.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Here’s a sample page from Helheim #1 to check out

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