Sequels are generally inferior but as we all know, there are a few exceptions to that rule, one example being Sam Raimi's 2004 film, Spider-Man 2. The story more or less picks up after the origin story told in the first film. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is coming to terms with his life, his living situation with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and his newfound superpowers. He's also still head over heels in love with Mary Jane Watson (Kirstin Dunst) though for her own good and more specifically her own safety, he's distancing himself from her even though it bothers him to have to do so.
With his personal life in the dumps, you'd think poor Peter would be able to take solace elsewhere, but he's still having money trouble and he's on the outs with his former best friend, Harry Osbourne (James Franco) as well. He makes what money he can by taking pictures for J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) at The Daily Bugle but it's not amounting to much in the grand scheme of things. To make matters worse, there's the issue of one Doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), Parker's former idol in the world of science who has been experimenting with a set of mechanical arms. When these mechanical arms, which act independently of him and basically have a mind of their own, are melded to his body he basically snaps and becomes New York City's latest supervillain thread. Parker knows it's up to him to stop this menace from making an even bigger mess of things than he already has, but if he doesn't take care of it, who will and how many more people will die?
We'll leave the synopsis at that but let it suffice to say that Spider-Man 2 has pretty much everything that a good superhero movie needs: action, adventure, characters you can care about, good acting, solid effects, a bit of comedy, some effective bits of romance and a great hero. Peter Parker's appeal has always been, to a certain extent, that he is an everyman. Where Bruce Wayne was a wealthy playboy and Clark Kent was an alien, Parker is a young man who has trouble paying his rent, can't seem to figure out what to do with his love life and who worries about his aging Aunt May. Most of us will be able to relate to that a lot easier than the problems of an insanely rich guy with a secret cave full of high tech gadgets or a millionaire playboy industrialist with a suit or armor. In fact, it's safe to say that anyone who has grown up without a silver spoon in their mouth can relate on some level to Peter Parker, and that makes Spider-Man all the more interesting and in many ways, endearing. Maguire plays his part well, we like him and we like Dunst as Mary Jane and we want them to be together because we know that despite their respective situations that they care about one another. In terms of the performances, both do fine work here.
This is, however, a superhero movie - we need some action to go along with the sappy stuff and the angsty stuff, right? Thankfully, Spider-Man 2 excels in this area as well. Alfred Molina is great as Doctor Octopus and somehow makes a completely ridiculous villain work really well in the context of the world that Sam Raimi and company have created here. He's menacing but also interesting and at times even a little sympathetic - but mostly, yeah, he's menacing - he's a crazy guy running around with giant mechanical arms destroying stuff, how can he not be? The final showdown between he and Spidey is one of the highpoints in the series and is a wonderfully crafted set pieces that is both tense and exciting and it brings the film to a completely appropriate conclusion that never quite gets too sappy but which definitely ends on a very hopeful note. A feel good ending? Maybe, but it works and given that the film is frequently quite dark leading up to this, we can forgive that easily enough. In the end, this one is a lot of good, slick fun - this is entertainment first and foremost and on that level the film succeeds wonderfully.
It should be noted that this Blu-ray release includes both the theatrical version of the movie as well as the extended cut. The extended cut adds a few bits and pieces of character development but doesn't really differ from the theatrical cut all that much - regardless, it's nice to have both versions here.
Spider-Man 2 looks great in 2.40.1 widescreen AVC encoded 1080p high definition on Blu-ray from Sony. Detail is strong throughout the transfer and the image is clean, crisp and sharp from start to finish. Colors are handled very nicely here, black levels are nice and strong and there are no issues with any noise reduction. Some minor shimmer is evident in a few spots and some of the CGI bits look exactly like CGI bits, but you can't really fault the disc for that. This is a well encoded edition of some very nice, detailed, textured looking source material.
The primary mix on this disc is the English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, though an English Stereo track is also provided. Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are provided in French, Spanish and in Portuguese. Optional subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Back to that DTS-HD 5.1 track though... it's a good one, as you'd expect it to be. The action scenes are obviously the most impressive, with the final battle with Doctor Octopus standing out as quite an impressive scene, the kind that showcases a lot of directional activity and which makes us of all channels in your setup. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion of note. The levels are well balanced and bass response is tight and strong, the low end anchoring the mix nicely. The instrumental score is mixed into the track rather well, adding some depth and emotion to key scenes as it should.
Extras kick off with the first commentary which comes courtesy of director Sam Raimi, star Tobey Maguire, producer Avi Arad and co-producer Grant Curtis. This is a fun talk, with Raimi and Maguire doing the bulk of the heavy lifting here, the two showing a good sense of humor and obviously quite friendly with one another. This track covers all the bases you'd expect - major set pieces, character development, cast and crew participation, who did what and how they did it, all that fun stuff. It's done with a good sense of humor and it moves at a quick pace. A second commentary track gathers together producer Laura Kiskin and screenwriter Alvin Sargent for a more subdued discussion that focuses a lot more closely on the storyline and the changes that occur to the characters throughout the movie. It's interesting in its own right but not quite as much fun as the first track is. There's also a third commentary track included on the disc labeled a 'technical commentary' that includes input from animatronics creator Steve Johnson of Edge FX and puppet-master Eric Hayden. As you'd probably expect, this one focuses a lot of the technology and special visual effects work that was done for the movie. It can be a little dry in spots but it's informative to be sure. If you're keen on the technical side of things, give this a shot, you'll probably appreciate it. The Raimi track and the technical track both play over the theatrical version, the Kiskin/Sargent track over the extended version.
From there we get the first of a few featurettes, Hero In Crisis, which is essentially a look at what makes Peter Parker go through the changes he goes through in this movie. It's marginally interesting and worth sitting through once, but it doesn't offer a whole lot of insight into the film, if anything it's more of a recap of what you've just watched than anything else. The next featurette is far more impressive - entitled Making The Amazing, it is split up into twelve parts. With a combined running time of just over two hours, this is a pretty in-depth look at pretty much everything that went into putting this movie together. There are loads of cast and crew interviews here with all of the principal players as well as input from some behind the scenes types like producer Avi Arad. There's even a segment with Stan Lee himself, co-creator of the world's most famous web-slinging superhero. As the documentaries play out we learn about casting, pre-production work, locations and sets, stunts, special effects and pretty much anything else that you might want to know about. A wealth of behind the scenes footage is also included here, giving us some insight into what it was like on set and what went into the different stages of putting this fairly massive production together. The bad guy gets the spotlight next in Ock-Umentary: Eight Arms To Hold You. This basically just lets us in on what happened in terms of developing the Doctor Octopus character for the movie and what type of effects were required for bringing the character to life on the big screen. There's some very cool test footage in here showing how the arms work, and it's pretty interesting stuff. Also worth mentioning is a collection of VFX Breakdowns and a Blooper Reel. Previews for a few other Sony titles are included as are menus and chapter selection.
The best of the three films in Raimi's trilogy, Spider-Man 2 gets a very solid reissue from Sony obviously timed to maximize the cross marketing opportunities offered by the theatrical release of The Amazing Spider-Man. Regardless, this is one that holds up well, an exciting and fun adventure film and one of the best comic book movies of the decade in which it was made. Sony's Blu-ray looks and sounds great and gathers up a whole lot more extras than were provided the first time around on the format. Those who own the previous release might not find this one so tempting but for everyone else this disc comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.