WARNING: The following contains spoilers for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, in theaters now.
At the end of 2014's How to Train Your Dragon 2, Toothless became the one true leader of all dragons. That's why, when the marketing campaign for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World introduced the villain Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), we were left to wonder how could command his own army of dragons.
It turns out that Toothless is still the alpha, but Grimmel has devoted his entire career to devising a nefarious method of rounding up a horde of his very own, so he could exterminate every last one of those beasts.\
Our first impression was that Grimmel had a Bewilderbeast of his own: a giant, all-powerful dragon viewed by the others as an alpha. The evil Drago possessed one in the previous movie that killed Valka's (Cate Blanchett) Bewilderbeast to become the leader. However, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) followed in his mother's footsteps, and inspired Toothless to break out of his trance and to kill Drago's beast. Thus, Toothless assumed the mantle of dragon king.
Cut to the present, and as The Hidden World progresses, we see that Grimmel doesn't actually have a Bewilderbeast of his own. But what he does have access to is a scientific brain and Deathgrippers, members of the dragon species that not only spew fire, but also secrete a unique venom. This comes in very handy for Grimmel, who isn't your typical dragon warlord, because apart from being an expert hunter, he's also quite the chemist.
Over the decades, Grimmel hasn't merely relied upon his brawn; he's been collecting dragon venom from around the world, and experimenting until he's finally able to create a brainwashing serum. He hunts dragons, and then injects them with the formula, using his signature crossbow, which allows them to bend them to his will.
He has manufactured sedatives and an array of other chemical weapons, but this secret formula is his crown jewel, allowing him to muster a legion of dragons with no mental connection to the alpha.
However, as free as they are from the dragon king, they're nothing more than slaves, at the command of Grimmel. He doesn't even need to bark orders; he simply makes requests. It's an interesting turn for the franchise, moving away from the typical hunters and toward a chemical terrorist.
Without a Bewilderbeast, the other option would have been for Grimmel to use some sort of magical enchantment, but in this case, science (or pseudo-science) works just as well. In the process, The Hidden World cultivates an unpredictable villain whose methods are simple, grounded, dark and, above all, effective.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, written and directed by Dean DeBlois, the film stars the voices of Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T. J. Miller, Kristen Wiig and F. Murray Abraham.