As Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker walked away from the girl he loved, re-affirming his identity as Spider-Man to the audience in the 2002 original film, I knew I had seen the best Spider-Man movie I could have imagined. With this 2004 sequel, Sam Raimi and company prove, in the immortal words of BTO, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
I am a Spider-Man freak. Since I was a kid, he was the one character that I really got into. I seldom got the opportunity to read comic books, but I still could tell you every one of Spidey’s enemies. As I grew older I started to relate more and more with Peter Parker. He was constantly beaten down by the world. I only wished I had an alter ego like Spider-Man, so I could go out web slinging when things got tough. As an adult, I still feel that way sometimes.
I honestly didn’t think director Sam Raimi could do any better than Spider-Man. A few CGI shots aside, it was every fanboy’s dream - a faithful adaptation of the comic that gave a breathtaking look at the hero’s view of New York City, and put Spidey right up against his biggest foe - the Green Goblin. I’m here to tell you, Spider-Man was just a warmup compared to the accomplishments of the sequel.
In Spider-Man 2 we rejoin Peter Parker (Maguire) two years after the events of the first movie. He’s still a college student, still in love with the girl he walked away from, and still the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Those three things conflict with each other as Peter tries to live up to his Uncle’s expectations: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. Unable to turn away when the need for Spider-Man arises, Peter is continually late for class or work, and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) has given up on him, finding a new beau in John Jameson, son of the Daily Bugle editor. Harry Osborne (James Franco) has taken over management of Oscorp and is attempting to keep his father’s legacy alive, while at the same time trying to seek out and destroy Spider-Man, who he holds responsible for his father’s death. As all these pressures and stress come to a head, Peter decides to give up the mantle of Spider-Man and live his own life.
This movie brings life to the Peter Parker I always related best to - the one overwhelmed by life and struggling just to stay afloat. This is a man who fights crime, and saves the innocent, but at the same time faces eviction because he can’t hold a job and is failing his classes, all while being attacked by the Daily Bugle and public opinion. It puts a human face on Spider-Man, he’s more than just his powers, he’s a real person with troubles that get the best of him.
In the midst of all of that add in the requisite supervillain, this time Doctor Otto Octavius, aka Dr. Octopus. This character marks a specific and deliberate change for the Spider-Man franchise as the movie alters his origin, making him a more sympathetic villain. As I said, I’m a Spider-Man freak, but I completely agree with the way Sam Raimi decided to take the character, and Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doc Ock is fantastic. He may very well be the best villain for a super-hero movie ever. By giving us time to meet Doctor Octavius before he “turns evil”, and giving his transformation into a villain more of a motivation, Dr. Octopus gets a more human face. He is a worthy foe for the very mortal Spider-Man we see throughout the story.
There are more improvements in this sequel than just the writing and acting though. Learning from the first movie, and applying a combination of both CGI and practical effects, the visual side of the movie is spectacular and virtually seamless. There are only a few spots where a movie fanatic might notice the effects. The rest of the time they blend in with the action and movie so well they are invisible, truly becoming the tools to help tell the story that visual effects are supposed to be. Thanks to this we get a greater feel for the world of vertigo Spidey lives in, and the action looks and feels absolutely brutal to watch. It becomes very easy to believe Spider-Man is slinging his way through the skies while Doc Ock pounds away with his tentacles.
With a cast that is obviously becoming more comfortable with their roles and a writing staff that can’t be beat, these truly become characters that are easy to care about. With Sam Raimi directing (and adding in some classic Raimi style cinematography) and a creative team that is willing to continue to raise the bar with visual effects, Spider-Man 2 is about as perfect a comic-book movie as you’re going to get. I’m sure I’m not the only one to say I can’t wait to see what the next chapter in the series will bring.
Until the next chapter comes, however, I can rewatch Spider-Man 2 on DVD over and over again, and this is a DVD worth owning. Not only is the film itself fantastic, but the presentation and extras on this two disc set are impressive as well, with an advertised ten hours of bonus material. Of course, half of that time is made up by the included commentary tracks (one by Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, producer Avi Arad and co-producer Grant Curtis and the other by the technical staff) and the “Spider Sense 2” trivia track, but the remaining extras can’t be beat.
I don’t usually stop and take notice of the menus on DVDs anymore, at least not to the point of commenting about them on a review, but the menus for this release really capture the feel of the movie. The menu selections are offered as you soar through a web, similar to the opening credits of the Spider-Man movies as images from the movie play in parts of the web. While there’s nothing creative in the actual interface, it’s just neat to look at and, as I said, captures the feel of the movie from the get go.
The heart of the extra material is a twelve part documentary titled “Making the Amazing” that, in all, is almost as long as the movie itself. The documentary delves into almost every aspect of making Spider-Man 2, from preproduction to the movie’s opening. Specific topics focus on music or directing decisions and even include interviews with notorious “behind the scenes only” type people like Raimi and Danny Elfman. For people who actually want to see behind-the-scenes, rather than an extended commercial for the movie, this really is a fantastic documentary, not only showing interviews with people, but offering raw footage filmed while decisions were being made on costumes, or Doc Ock’s tentacles.
After that there are some featurettes taken from the same interviews that made up “Making the Amazing”, but for some reason not included within the documentary. Each one focuses on a more specific element of Spider-Man - the hero himself, Doctor Octopus, and the women of Spidey’s life. Like the documentary, they are very well assembled and offer some great insight into the creative mindset of the cast and crew.
Other materials range from “web-i-sodes” that were on the movie’s promotional web site to a music video for Train’s “Ordinary” (a song that sounds like it was specifically written to be on a movie soundtrack). There is a gallery of the Alex Ross paintings that were created to make up the opening credits of Spider-Man 2, which was a real highlight for me - both for the movie and the DVD. Most interestingly is a multi-angle look at filming a scene from the movie. The angles offer different cameras’ views that were on set, filming the making of the movie from multiple places in real time. I’ve yet to see a feature on a DVD make this excellent a use of the multi-angle capabilities of DVDs.
The one downside (not that I’d knock the set too much for this) is that it’s available on separate widescreen and fullscreen versions, but unlike the first Spider-Man movie, the artwork on the cover for both versions is the same. I really like it when it’s easy to see a difference in the two versions, and Sony was on the right track with the first film. It’s a shame to see them make a different decision with this release - especially when other parts of the disc seem to be so family friendly. For instance, when given audio choices, the menu explains when you should select the Dolby Surround Sound track vs. the 5.1 track. Since not everyone is on the cutting edge of home theaters, it’s nice to see the choices presented in a more user friendly manor. I know it’s just a little detail, but sometimes those make a big difference.
As a self-proclaimed Spider-Man freak, this was obviously a DVD I had to buy. It’s great to see the supplementary material carry on the excellence of the movie though. Even though it’s pretty certain Columbia Pictures will release a double dip down the road (as they did with the first Spider-Man) I can highly recommend this release as a must own special edition.