Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Documentaries, Art Gallery, Bloopers, Music Video, Previews

Our friendly neighborhood Spider-man swings back into town and onto DVD with the absolutely fantastic "Spider-man 2." Sam Raimi returns to direct the sequel to the 2002 smash hit. And in one of those rare instances creates a film that surpasses the original in every way.

A year or so has passed since the conclusion of "Spider-man" and Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is now a Physics major attending Columbia University. Unfortunately nothing seems to be going right. He loses his job as a pizza deliveryman and he’s on the brink of failing his first semester, all to serve the greater good as Spider-man. But when his powers mysteriously start to vanish one at a time and his relationships with his friends start to grow apart, it’s up to Peter to decide whether his destiny in life is to go for the things he desires or continue protecting the city as Spider-man.

And what is a great hero without a great villain? Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. Experimenting on new ways of handling Fusion as a cheap, abundant source of energy, Octavius devises four powerful tentacles that are fused to his spine so that he’ll be able to handle the dangerous materials. When the experiment goes terribly wrong and the artificial intelligence in the arms is set loose within the good doctors mind, Octavius changes from the kind-minded genius that Peter admires, into an evil half-man, half-machine, insanely bent on continuing the experiment he started, even if it means destroying half of New York in the process.

Meanwhile Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) has continued her career in acting. Starring in an off-Broadway hit play, her feelings for Peter haven’t changed. She still continues to love him but unfortunately Peter’s decision to bury his mutual feelings, only to protect those he loves from the dangers that exist in Spider-man’s life, is causing problems with their friendship. Peter’s close friendship with Harry Osborne isn’t going so well either. Harry’s obsession with finding out who Spider-man is and avenging his father’s death in the suspicion that Spider-man was the murderer causes a bitterness that separates the two friends further and further apart.

"Spider-man 2" is by far the best superhero film I’ve seen. A lot of great films have come before it (the original "Superman" and "Batman" and Brian Singer’s excellent "X-Men" films come to mind) but none of them have had such a fluid approach and understanding of the source material they’re working from. In the first "Spider-man" Sam Raimi was still fairly new to the genre. Besides directing "Darkman," Raimi hadn’t had any experience directing superhero-style films – especially a massive budget franchise like Spider-man. Any faults that "Spider-man" may have had are now completely gone in the sequel. Sam Raimi never falters once in his combination of special effects, story, pacing and characterization. Even watching it a third time on DVD, I am still marveled, no pun intended, at how well this film is put together. Bob Murawski’s editing is spectacular and to quote Roger Ebert "There are special effects, and then there are special effects." The largest action sequence for the film takes place on top of a subway train as it speeds throughout New York. How they were able to achieve such a believable mix of real actors and their CGI counterparts is beyond me. One particular section of the battle has Spider-man and Doc Oc fighting on the side of one of the train cars and for those who haven’t seen the film prepare to be amazed!

I also want to praise this film for how well we get to really know the characters. Peter Parker is Spider-man. Not the other way around. So it should be understood that this is the character that we need to spend most of our time with. In most superhero movies the director is more concerned with showing us more of the hero’s powers and not the persona behind that power. Tobey Maguire shows off his acting abilities to a great extent by making the audience understand the internal conflict that resides within Peter. Kirsten Dunst also brings the heart and warmth of Mary Jane to the screen as well. Thankfully Raimi realizes how important her role is to story.

I’d also like to make note that this time around, Raimi decided to film this film in the wider 2.35:1 aspect ratio instead of the 1.85:1 format he used for the first. Thank you. It really help open up the shots and allowed for many great Raimi-esqe filming techniques. Fans of Raimi’s Evil Dead series will see far more of his style in this picture than in the first.

Beside the <$PS,widescreen> presentation that I’m reviewing, "Spider-man 2" is also available in a separate full screen edition, which is like throwing pearls before pigs, as well as a Superbit edition. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch the featureless Superbit edition yet, so my comments on image quality and sound quality are based entirely on the <$PS,widescreen> special edition.

To get a clear idea of what this film looks like on DVD, just think back to the theatrical trailer that some Columbia TriStar DVD’s showed earlier this year. That’s how good this disc looks. And for those who can’t remember, well, it looks great! Thankfully "Spider-man 2" has been released on two discs as to allow a higher bitrate for the movie. The first thing that pops off the screen is the colors. The film has such an incredible amount of vibrance and contrast that every shade ranging from Spider-man’s trade mark red and blue tights, to Mary Jane’s red hair and especially later in the film as Spider-man fights Octavius in his waterfront hideout. Detail is apparent in every frame. There is so much detail in this version that I wonder how much better the Superbit edition can actually improve upon it. Another area, which is always a true test for how good a transfer is, are skin tones. The lighting in every scene perfectly highlights the realism in the actor’s complexions. Every flaw in the actor’s faces is distinguishable. Have a look at Rosemary Harris and Tobey Maguire as they talk to each other as she’s packing her household belongings outside. Not since a DVD like "Bad Boys II" have I seen such a vibrant disc as this. Black levels are rich without any apparent noise in the darker areas. The transfer might at sometimes look more digital than film but when you have a disc that looks as good as "Attack of the Clones" I’m not complaining. Sony Pictures surely releases another reference quality disc here.

"Spider-man 2" is available in <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 for this edition and <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 for the Superbit edition.

Wow! One word is all I need to express how good this disc sounds, even in Dolby Digital. The entire soundstage is active through most of the film. The use of surrounds is flawlessly blended throughout every action sequence Even in certain dialog sequences later in the film the surrounds are used in a similar fashion to the first film. When dialog or sound effects are moving from location to location there’s never a moment where you notice a gap. I also really like the dynamic quality of this soundtrack. In both times when Octavius is beginning his fusion reactors, bass is deep yet smoothly blended as the reactors warm up. The numerous action sequences, such as the famous "car thrown through the coffee shop" scene that was the highlight of the trailer campaign used earlier this year is very impressive. Even during such active scenes such as these, dialog is never difficult to hear and the sound field never collapses. Voices are naturally reproduced and nicely replicate the environments the actors are in. To put it bluntly, "Spider-man 2" is my favorite sounding disc of this year. I can’t wait to get my hands on the Superbit edition with its DTS track.

Thankfully Sony limited the number of features on the first disc so that the quality of the film wouldn’t suffer. Of the two most important features on disc one, the <$commentary,commentary track> provided by Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, producer Avi Arad and co-producer Grant Curtis and a second Technical Commentary, both of which are the definitely worth listening to. I briefly skimmed through the first and it does give some interesting details on how the film was made. I am really looking forward to sitting down and listening to the second commentary the most, only because I’m very interested in hearing how many of the visual effects were pulled off.

Next on the list is "Spidey Sense 2," which shows factoids and trivia appear while you watch the film. It’s obviously similar to "Follow the White Rabbit" or New Line’s Infinifilm editions but not quite as extensive. "Web-I-sodes" are small promo’s that feature "Costume design," "Comic-Con," "J. Jonah Jameson, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson." They run about 2-3 minutes each and are worth watching. They have interviews with the various actors and show clips that give their thoughts on the characters they play. I wished they showed more of Alfred Molina’s interview at Comic-Con though.

A Music Video by Train, a Blooper Reel and numerous Previews for both Spider-man films as well as other upcoming Sony Pictures films like Spanglish, Hitch & Christmas With The Kranks are available to watch. Hitch starring Will Smith looks very funny BTW.

Disc Two is loaded with a vast amount of extra content. For those who were only interested in purchasing the barebones Superbit edition, you might want to double dip with this title. The documentaries and extras on disc two are that good.

"Making The Amazing" is a 12-part documentary starting from the pre-production phase of the film and covering all the way to the Hollywood premiere. For anyone who is a fan of the film, this is an extensive look at every department ranging from editing, visuals, sound and music design, scripting and basically everything else. It runs at just over 2 hours and it holds your attention the entire time. Thanks to Charles de Lauzirika for producing and directing this great feature. Note: There is an Easter egg in this feature. When highlighting PLAY ALL, push up and Doc Oc’s tentacle will highlight green. It is a great little clip with a surprise guest. Quite funny.

I’m sure you’ll be tired after watching the making of, but stick around for the next three featurettes. The first is entitled "Hero In Crisis," and it’s a deep look into the life of Peter Parker and his alter ego Spider-man. This 14-minute feature has Spider-man creator Stan Lee and other famous past Spider-man artists like John Romita talking about the character. For fans of the earliest issues of "The Amazing Spider-man" you will recognize a lot of what is discussed in this feature.

The second is entitled "Ock-Umentary: Eight Arms to Hold You" is a 22 minute feature on the character of Dr Otto Octavius, aka Doc Oc. It’s in the same fashion as the previous feature and is great to watch not only for fans that know everything there’s to know about the character but also those who are new to him. I like seeing a lot of the artwork I used to see back in my teens.

And the last featurette is "Interwoven: The Women of Spider-man" runs at around 15 minutes and discusses the various different women in Peter’s life. The characters of Aunt May, Mary Jane, Betty Brant and even Gwen Stacy are described in great detail again by Stan Lee, John Romita, Joe Quasada and the rest of the crew at Marvel. I like that they do discuss Gwen because the character’s role had obviously been removed from the first film and blended with Mary Jane’s role.

"Enter The Web" is a unique look behind-the-scenes captured in real-time section of the disc that uses 4 angles to show the climatic pier sequence. It’s really cool and I think it’s the first DVD extra that lets you watch the filming of a scene from 4 selectable angles all in real-time. Check it out.

And what would "Spider-man 2" be without a Gallery featuring all the fantastic artwork created by famous comic artist Alex Ross. This frame-by-frame section shows all of the artwork created for the opening title sequence. Interesting enough all the artwork was auctioned off earlier this month. I originally met Alex Ross back in the late 90’s after his work on the hit series Marvels and it would have been fantastic to own an original piece of his artwork – especially some of the great shots for Spider-man 2.

Lastly we get section on the Spider-man 2 game. A Trailer and a small feature called Spinning The Game are present but anybody whom played the game months ago don’t need to be bothered watching this section.

Spider-man 2 is definitely worth purchasing and should be in everyone’s collection. This edition is for the fans of the film and characters and the Superbit release is for the Audiophiles. And just like the first film, I’ll be purchasing both.