Opposite films likely to attract audiences

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

June 19, 2014


WAUKESHA - They say opposites attract. Maybe that means both “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “The Rover” will attract large audiences, for the two June-premiering films are dissimilar in several ways. One is animated while the other features actors in the flesh; one transpires on a utopian island in bygone years, the other in a what’s been described as “dystopian” future world, etc.

“How to Train  Your Dragon 2”

105 minutes, PG

In this sequel to 2010’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” the creatures of the title, sometimes comically, blow smoke, breathe fire and butt heads. They also wrestle, race - even regurgitate.

And they get along swimmingly with their human masters, Vikings who began the first film in what’s to be a three-film series as fierce dragon slayers.

The 3-D picture is set in a place called Berk, something of a Scandinavian utopia where, as Viking protagonist Hiccup puts it, “life is amazing.” Certainly the DreamWorks computer animation is amazing in its lifelike detail, including artists’ depictions of Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), his father the Viking chief Stoick (Gerard Butler), his mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrara) and the supervillain Drago (Djimon Hounsou). Many characters and voices are carry-overs from the original and Dean DeBlois is back behind the camera. The primary voiceless character is the dragon Toothless, Hiccup’s delightful pet.

In idyllic Berk, in the several years since the start of the 2010 movie, the Vikings have learned to live harmoniously with their former prey. Enter demented Drago, an inhuman human hellbent on shattering that harmony. Drago, you see, wants to control the world and has decided a dragon army just might enable him to do so.

There are oodles of prospective reptilian soldiers in and around Berk, but there are also Hiccup, who has “the soul of a dragon,” and Valka, whose raison d’etre has long been “to make the world a safe place for all dragons.” And then there’s Toothless.

Fast-paced “How to Train Your Dragon 2” will readily gain and easily maintain the interest of viewers of various ages. A PG rating from the MPAA (due to the film’s “adventure action and some mild rude humor”) may suggest that the viewership exclude the youngest of youngsters. That’s too bad, given the likable extended family (complete with pet dragon) at the movie’s heart and the fact folks from 5 to 105 can afford to assimilate lines such as “Stop trying so hard to be something you’re not” and “Good dragons under the control of bad people do bad things.”

Rating: 3 stars 

“The Rover”
102 minutes, R

The temptation is to pigeonhole “The Rover,” set several years in the future and somewhat remindful of the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” as a cautionary parable.

But cautionary of what? The possibility of worldwide economic chaos? What life might become if we fail to end our fascination with guns? Civil authorities hidebound by  tradition? Trusting in out-for-No.-1 human beings with a trust better reserved for man’s four-legged friends? None of the above?

I’ll admit, I’m not sure. What I do know is I found “The Rover” riveting, despite a plot I’d probably have understood better were it not for thick Australian accents, some murky motivations, and philosophical inconsistencies within one or more of the characters (for example, once and future cold-eyed executioner Eric, played by Guy Pearce, tells Robert Pattinson’s trigger-happy Rey, “You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken”).

The acting of steely Pearce and irresolute Pattinson, as antagonists who develop a curious bond, is thoroughly convincing (for which director David Michod, who also wrote the screenplay, also deserves kudos). The score by Anton Partos is impressively imaginative, even at its most discordant. Natasha Braier’s cinematography underscores ugliness while suggesting beauty.

There’s a good deal of blood in “The Rover,” but the blood spilling is not gratuitous. This movie about murderous car thieves who may or may not get their comeuppance - and mysterious vigilante Eric who spends nearly 100 minutes attempting to see that they do - isn’t gratuitous, either, but a tale well-told.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars