Judge Erich Asperschlager catches colds just like flies.
Our reviews of Spider-Man 2 (published January 24th, 2005), Spider-Man 2.1 (published April 9th, 2007), and Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published November 1st, 2007) are also available.
"I will not die a monster."
When Spider-Man 2 begins, Peter Parker's life is a mess. Juggling two lives and at least that many jobs, it's all he can do to stay afloat. Being a superhero might be a noble profession, but it doesn't pay the bills. In the pantheon of comic book good guys, Spider-Man has always had it tough. He's vilified by the press, pursued by police, forced to distance himself from his aunt (Rosemary Harris, Sunshine), his moody best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco, 127 Hours), and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), the girl he loves, in order to keep them safe. He doesn't have Batman's money, Superman's alien powers, or Iron Man's popularity. If it wasn't for that "great responsibility" his Uncle Ben was always going on about, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, Seabiscuit) might actually have a social life. Unlike most superheroes, Spider-Man's powers make his life harder instead of easier. Things get worse when a new villain hits the scene, scientist-turned-monster Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a.k.a. Doctor Octopus. With the city and his personal life in crisis, Peter Parker must choose whether to accept his destiny, or hang up his tights for good.
Spider-Man 2 is being re-released on Blu-ray in advance of The Amazing Spider-Man reboot in July. In the eight years between the two movies, a lot has changed. Comic book flicks have gone from sidelining the summer schedule to main course. While Christopher Nolan went the gritty, grounded route with Batman, Marvel went the other direction, creating the cinematic equivalent of the comic book mega-event with five movies building to the crossover spectacle of The Avengers. Spider-Man 2 falls somewhere between these approaches, presenting a version of the character that is true to the comic books, without ignoring the emotional conflict at the heart of Lee and Ditko's creation.
The origin story in the first Spider-Man film is well-told, but the back half of the movie suffers because of the villain. The Green Goblin may be iconic, but he doesn't work on screen. What's the point of getting Willem Dafoe to play a bad guy if he spends most of the film buried in shiny green armor? Even with its problems, the groundwork Raimi laid in Spider-Man pays off in its superior sequel. With the comic-inspired tone, the look of Spidey's New York, and strong central cast established, Spider-Man 2 is able to hit the ground running—er, swinging. Free from the burden of the origin story, writers Alvin Sargent, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Michael Chabon are able to focus on bigger themes, like choice, love, feelings of inadequacy, and what it means to be a hero. Most of the film's middle act is dedicated not to web-slinging but to characters talking to each other. Hard to imagine a modern comic book blockbuster leaving so much room for introspection. That's a shame. Even though the dialogue is a bit on the nose, it adds up to genuine character development.
Spider-Man 2 isn't all melodrama, of course, and when the action starts, it's thrilling. The elevated train fight sequence still stands among the best comic book movie showdowns. Between Spidey's web-shooting acrobatics and Doc Ock's mechanical arms, Raimi has some choice toys to play with. His fight scenes are closer to dance numbers than the brutish violence of most big movies, and he composes his film like panels of the comic book that inspired it. Raimi draws from his comedy-horror roots in Spider-Man 2, trading gore for old-fashioned scares. People scream and run towards the camera. He uses extreme angles that throw the viewer off balance. In one of the best scenes, Doc Ock's arms come to life in an operating room, dispatching doctors in ways that feel more like a '50s monster movie than a comic book flick.
Nothing makes a memorable superhero movie like a good villain, and Spider-Man 2 has a great one. Not only is Doctor Octopus a more compelling character than the first film's Green Goblin, he works better on screen. Ock's green and gold jumpsuit is gone the way of the classic X-Men suits in their first film outing, or Bane's luchador costume in The Dark Knight Rises. Instead, the bad doctor gets a simple trenchcoat and sunglasses ensemble. It's understated—except for the giant arms, of course. Doctor Octopus's appendages in Raimi's world are sentient, snake-like creatures that brainwash Octavius after an accident fuses them to his body. Its silly comic book stuff, but the struggle between creation and creator has weight thanks to Alfred Molina's wonderful, tortured performance. His arc is tragic, culminating in a moving and redemptive final scene.
I'm not sure even Doc Ock has enough hands to count the number of releases Spider-Man 2 has gotten on DVD and Blu-ray. Although this latest version appears to have the same video transfer as the previous Blu-rays, it has a new audio transfer. The 2.40:1 1080p picture is sharp and bright, with tons of detail, fine grain, and rich comic book colors. In the bonus features, the costume designer talks about all the work that went into picking just the right red for Spidey's suit. With this transfer, you can tell. It looks as good as you'd expect from a tentpole Sony release. The audio mix, meanwhile, has been "upgraded" to DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio from the TrueHD found in earlier hi-def incarnations. The change may be mostly about bringing this catalog release in line with the industry standard, but who cares when it sounds this good? The mix really comes to life in the action sequences, mixing Danny Elfman's score with rumbling bass and dynamic surround effects.
This may not be the first time Spider-Man 2 has been released on Blu-ray, but it's the most complete package to date. Its previous Blu-ray release, available by itself and part of The High Definition Trilogy, had just the theatrical version of the film and the extended cut (dubbed Spider-Man 2.1). The DVDs had far more content, some on the theatrical disc and still more on the later 2.1 release. This new Spider-Man 2 Blu-ray doesn't have everything from the original DVDs—there are some webisodes, featurettes, and a trivia track missing—but it brings together most of the previously available bonus features:
• Spider-Man 2.1: This extended cut of the film runs nine minutes longer, adding a little more action, more dialogue, and a longer, alternate version of the comic elevator exchange between Spider-Man and Hal Sparks.
• Three audio commentaries: Two for the theatrical version—a cast and crew commentary with Raimi, Tobey Maguire, producer Avi Arad, and co-producer Grant Curtis; and a "technical commentary" with a host of people who worked on the film—and a 2.1 commentary recorded by producer Laura Ziskin and screenwriter Alvin Sargent. It's worth noting that each commentary has its own subtitle track, if you feel like reading instead.
• "Making the Amazing" (2:06:26): This feature-length, 12-part documentary covers all aspects of the filmmaking process, including costume design, writing, directing, stunt work, special effects, and the "spydercam" rig that allowed them to shoot Spider-Man's rooftop traversal through the city.
• "Hero in Crisis" (14:50): A discussion of how Stan Lee's classic "Spider-Man No More" storyline inspired the film.
• "Ock-umentary: Eight Arms to Hold You" (22:10): An in-depth look at Doctor Octopus's journey from comics to the big screen.
• "Visual Effects Breakdown" (32:38): A look at the development of the film's still-impressive effects, presented in five parts.
• Blooper Reel (7:31)
If Spider-Man 2 seems less impressive than it did back in 2004, don't blame the film. Between the disappointment of Spider-Man 3 and the overexposure of some of the franchise's cast members, it seems like filmgoers have decided that this sequel couldn't possibly be as good as they thought it was back in 2004. Those people are wrong. Spider-Man 2 is as amazing as ever. With franchise fatigue setting in even before this year's Spider-Man reboot hits theaters, and comic book movies reaching their saturation point, there's never been a better time to revisit one of the finest movies the genre has produced, in its best Blu-ray package to date.
Not sure it's my Spidey Sense, but something's tingling. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
• Spider-Man 2.1 Extended Version
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