John Powell created one of the best film scores of all time with his music for How To Train Your Dragon, and while this sequel soundtrack doesn’t quite hit those same highs, it’s still pretty fantastic in its own right.
The film score universe is incredibly lucky to have John Powell. He’s one of those lesser known composers (he’s not on the same level as the likes of James Horner and John Williams for example) that not a lot of people pay attention to, but those that do follow his work (i.e. me) know Powell to be one of the best composers around at the moment. He composed the incredible music for slightly unusual superhero flick Hancock and more recently did a fantastic and very Star Wars-y score for Solo: A Star Wars Story, one that is so rich with thematic ideas that you’d spend forever trying to catch them all.
Powell is most famous however for his music for the How To Train Your Dragon series, and no wonder really – they are after all some of the best film scores of all time. The first blew us away with incredibly rousing and dramatic themes as well as action music, and the second (this one) cements those ideas into a franchise as it builds on old themes and at the same time introduces a fair number of new ones. The third installment is actually releasing next week (hence the timing of this review) and hopefully it will be the breathtaking conclusion to the soundtrack trilogy that we all know Powell is more than capable of.
But that’s next week. For now, let’s focus on sequel number one. The score opens with Dragon Racing, a remarkably similar piece of music to the opening track of the original film’s score; This Is Berk (not that this is a bad thing though). The music begins rapidly, dramatic brass and percussion immediately kicking in with a somewhat anticipatory rendition of the flying theme before then moving into strings-based territory as the main theme of the franchise appears (or at least, I’ve always assumed it’s the main theme – it crops up more often then anything else). One thing I have always admired about John Powell is that he is never afraid to go all out – never holding back – and he really shows that here. The brass, the strings, percussion, vocals, everything really – here they’re all loud, fast and massively over the top, and it makes for one hell of an album opener.
Toothless Lost then introduces us to the major new theme for this score; the one for the Alpha(s?). Having never actually seen the film I can only guess. The theme begins in the back half of the cue (right after a rather spectacular performance of the flying theme). Things calm right down as vocals slowly begin to appear, singing out a particularly melancholic, sad and unfortunately short rendition of the new theme. Strings and brass then join the fray for a rather dramatic finale to the track. Losing Mom/Meet The Good Alpha then picks up right where Toothless Lost left off, this time adding more vocals, percussion and indeed volume for a very powerful rendition of the new theme – this time thankfully fleshing the motif out for a highly enjoyable three minutes.
The villain theme of the score is then properly introduced in Meet Drago, having had a short initial appearance in Hiccup The Chief/Drago’s Coming. Right away you can tell this piece is meant for the bad guy, as the tone moves to far darker territory with rather ominous-sounding strings and sinister vocals. Percussion and brass then present themselves towards the end of the track, adding a particularly dramatic flair to this already rather villainous theme. While it’s not a massively memorable or really interesting motif for a bad guy, I do have to give props to Powell as the music is instantly recognisable as a villain theme. As soon as it began I knew it was meant to represent the big bad, and I haven’t even seen the film.
The standout cue of the album then arrives with Battle Of The Bewilderbeast, a six-and-a-half-minute John Powell action extravaganza. Brass and percussion kick in immediately as the music begins, with vocals making quite an oustanding performance two minutes in as they sing a rather slow and beautiful rendition of the flying theme, which in turn serves as an introduction for the subsequent brass-based, heroic and incredibly epic presentation of that amazing piece of music. Drago’s theme then gets a particularly menacing and primarily vocal appearance before the music then dives straight back into the action for another bombastic two minutes before this spectacular cue then sadly comes to an end. At six minutes it still felt too short, but that doesn’t stop it from easily being the standout cue of the album.
The Alpha’s theme then makes a return in Stoick Saves Hiccup, this time in a fairly melancholic and strings-based fashion. Things then get a bit more hopeful as the track goes on, with the tone taking a bit of a dramatic turn as vocals make a more than welcome appearance. These then continue through to Stoick’s Ship, where after a few seconds we then get something of a treat; the bagpipes return. Having made a pretty spectacular mark on the first film’s score they were sorely missed on this album, and it’s fantastic to finally hear them again here in all their incredibly dramatic glory.
Old and new then combine in Toothless Found, as the flying and Alpha’s themes come together for a pretty breathtaking performance. Vocals, strings and brass take much of the forefront here, using Powell’s traditional loud-and-proud musical style to deliver a stunning and highly enjoyable piece of music. Two New Alphas then closes out the album, continuing in the same loud and heroic fashion as the previous track with several dazzling renditions of the Alpha’s theme before then finishing off with a particularly moving and finale-esque performance of the flying theme.
Overall, John Powell’s score to How To Train Your Dragon 2 is just amazing. He took all the best thematic elements from his previous score and then expertly intertwined them with some pretty fantastic new ones, altogether making for a rather breathtaking and indeed highly enjoyable album. If I had to nitpick, I’d say Drago’s theme could have been a little better (as it wasn’t particularly memorable outside of the recognisable villain elements) and the main theme from the previous film could perhaps have been used a little more, as really its only appearance of note was in Dragon Racing. I do also feel that the first film’s score has an edge over this one, primarily as I felt there was a little more magic and memorability behind some of the cues (Forbidden Friendship, Test Drive, Coming Back Around etc.) when compared to the sequel. Overall though, I still think that the score to How To Train Your Dragon 2 is nothing short of magnificent, and now more than ever I look forward to hearing what Powell has in store for the sequel.
The countdown to How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World continues.
Standout Cue: 12. Battle Of The Bewilderbeast