Plot: What’s it about?
“Spider-Man 2” has the luxury of not only being the most profitable movie of the year (to date), but also one of the most critically acclaimed. Additionally you don’t need a spider sense to know that the suits at Coulmbia/Tri-Star must be loving life. After all, “Spider-Man” is a franchise and has potential to be the biggest superhero movie of all-time. Personally, though, I think this sequel was a bit overrated. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great movie and I found it superior to the first, but I just think that giving this movie a 4 star rating is a bit too much (just like “Return of the King”). When you give movies like this that rating, you automatically put them up there with the likes of “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane”. Then again, I realize that these are two entirely different movies than those and everything is subjective. Is “Spider-Man 2” a good movie? Yes. Is it the best movie of 2004? No. Perhaps the best thing that the movie did is bridge the gap between being a “comic book movie” to being a mainstream movie. With past movies like “The Crow” or even “X-Men”, you had a core audience who was already familiar with the characters and they’d see the movie even if it was awful. I personally prefer the “X-Men” movies to these because as a former reader of those uncanny superheroes, I relate better to them than Peter Parker. I’m in the minority, however and I’ll admit that Spider-Man is perhaps Marvel Comics’ most “real” superhero.
That said, “Spider-Man 2” had a lot to build on as the initial installment all but guaranteed a sequel. In this we find Peter (Toby Maguire) now studying at Columbia University and more in love with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) than ever. The only problem is that being Spider-Man has taken its toll on their relationship and now she’s engaged to astronaut John Jameson (Daniel Gillies). Being Spider-Man has taken so much of a toll on Peter that he decides to give it up and he’s mysteriously lost his ability to sling webs. This all changes, though, when Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) mistakenly morphs into the evil Dr. Octopus (Doc Ock). As with all well-meaning scientists, Doc Ock installs an inhibitor chip to keep the tentacles fused to his spine (yes, really) from controlling him. The chip is compromised and now New York has another costumed villain to deal with. Naturally only Spider-Man can save the city (and possibly the world) from the evil Doc Ock and he must endure pain both physical and mental if he’s going to do so.
“Spider-Man 2” shows a much more human side of the masked superhero. As the audience, we all know that Peter is really Spidey, but the characters in the movie don’t. Couple this with the tension between Harry (James Franco) who despises Spider-Man (lest we forget, he blames Spidey for the death of his father at the end of “Spider-Man”), but is Peter’s best friend. To tell the truth, this one really does have it all. Love? Check. Acton? Got it. Costumed men chasing each other around and destroying a city? All here. As “Spider-Man 3” is undoubtedly on the way, we know that there’s no shortage of masked super-villans for Spidey to fight. That’s not the problem. But what Director Sam Raimi has done is sculpt a sequel that surpasses the original. Raimi, himself a vet of movies like “Evil Dead”, knows how to interestingly present a story and catch the audience off guard. What caught most audiences off guard was the fact that “Spider-Man 2” was not only better than the original; it showed a more human side to most every character in the movie. I’m preaching to the choir here, I’m sure – this is highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Believe it or not, this is the third version of “Spider-Man 2” on DVD. The original DVD was a two disc set, and released at the same time was a Superbit release and now we have the 2.1 version. I’m sure that by the year’s end, we’ll have all three Spider-Man movies on Blu-ray but for the time being this is what we have. I did a comparison to the Superbit release that I reviewed a couple years back. I have to say that the Superbit release still looks a bit better, then again with no supplements the transfer had a bit more room to breathe whereas this new 2.1 version has a commentary track stuffed on the disc with it. Any way you look at it, the transfer is pristine. The colors pop, we can see the little scales on Spidey’s suit and the detail in the backgrounds of the city. Flesh tones seem warm and natural though I caught just a bit of edge enhancement in a few scenes. This 2.40:1 anamoprhic transfer ranks just a notch below the Superbit release, which is still the best-looking disc of “Spider-Man 2” at the moment (which will change when the Blu-ray finally comes out).
Audio: How does it sound?
The previous Superbit release had a DTS track which has been dropped from this release and we have a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track (as was included on the previous releases as well) which more than suffices. As expected, the soundtrack is everywhere with Danny Elfman’s incredible score coming out of every channel. The action scenes sound fantastic as well but the best use of the sound comes when Dr. Octopus’s arms are engaged. There are beams of light (or lasers) that activate and when each one activates, it uses a different speaker. It’s quite a nice use of the surround sound. Dialogue is, of course, clean and natural. Like the video, this is likely the best the movie will sound until the Blu-ray version comes out later which will undoubtedly have an uncompressed track.
Supplements: What are the extras?
You don’t have to be Dr. Octopus to figure out why Sony is releasing a new Special Edition of “Spider-Man 2”. In case you’ve been in a cave somewhere, you’ll know that “Spider-Man 3” is just around the corner and what better way to celebrate its release than to go double dipping? In all fairness, this is a pretty good offering. None of the features are rehashed from the old two-disc set and even the trivia track has been updated with new information. First and foremost, this release contains 8 minutes of footage not shown in the theatrical version. Most are little segments, like an extended scene and some added battle shots. The highlight of which might be J.K. Simmons (the editor of the Daily Bugle) jumping around in the spidey suit. The commentary track by producer Laura Ziskin and screenwriter Alvin Sargent know their stuff and are obviously both very involved on what’s happening on and off screen. This is a completely different commentary than the two that appeared on the first offering, so I’ll be interested to see how they squeeze all of these three commentaries on a disc somehow (Blu-ray anyone)? Next up is the trivia track 2.1 which can be played while watching the movie complete with new factoids from the older 2.0 version.
The second disc contains the rest of the supplements and we start out with a couple of featurettes. The “Inside 2.1” gives us a good look at the Academy-Award winning VFX team that took some new footage and made it work for this release. They show how they animated the new footage (or unused footage, rather) and incorporated it into the movie. This leads us into “With Great Effort Comes Great Recognition” as it shows us the award-winning team and how the process is set up to honor such movies for the Academy Awards. There are five individual VFX breakdowns, each outlined in detail and we get glimpses of some of the more challenging scenes in the movie. There’s also a featurette on Danny Elfman’s score that makes use of the oft-used angle feature of DVD. You can toggle between two different angles while Elfman once again creates his magic with music. Lastly in the “Oh, well why you’re watching this…” department we get a sneak peek at “Spider-Man 3” as well as a trailer for the movie and the impending video game. This 2.1 version is a pretty solid offering, but with completely different material than the original two disc offering. Die-hard fans might find themselves wanting both editions, just the way Sony wants it I’m sure.