"Spider-Man 2" is the rare sequel that not only surpasses the original, but does so by leaps and bounds. The first film was enjoyable Summer entertainment that was fun, but never really took flight in the way that it could have. The second film not only raises the bar in terms of blockbuster staples (effects, etc), but punches up the emotion and drama of the tale, resulting in a powerful action film with drama and some depth. This is still a Summer Blockbuster, to be sure, but an ambitious one that raises the bar.
The second film doesn't exactly start off terribly well for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). Although he's continued to be Spider-Man, there's the matter of trying to pay the rent with a pizza delivery job that hangs by a very weak thread, trying to study for classes he can't always attend, figuring out how to get money for Aunt May before her house is taken by the bank, and, of course, the feelings he still has for one Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).
Early in the picture, Peter starts to wonder about his responsibilities; he is denied everything that he wants in his life in order to try and keep the criminal elements of the city from taking hold ("With great power comes great responsibility".) To make things worse, Peter finds that the webbing he can shoot from his wrists is occasionally failing, resulting in some rather lengthy falls. He considers trying to tell Mary Jane about his feelings for her, but he doesn't manage to get to see her play due to other issues that come up.
The second film has Peter getting the opportunity to meet with one of his idols, Dr. Otto Octavius, a good-hearted doctor who dreams of creating a new energy source that could also cause severe consequences if used improperly. When things go wrong, the mechanical arms that Octavius has grafted onto himself go haywire, turning him into a madman, newly named Doc Ock. The now-villain tries to recreate his failed experiment, with potentially tragic results and only one person out there able to stop him. Things don't go well with old friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), either: Harry continues to believe that Spidey was responsible for the death of his father in the first film and that Peter may be the key to finding him, given that he's the only one to take pictures of Spidey for the local paper.
"Spider-Man 2" tries to balance the human stories of Peter and the other characters with the action and visuals expected from this kind of film. Director Sam Raimi does so almost effortlessly here, while also adding i touches of offbeat humor (see Peter's dirst moments after getting rid of his costume.) The character development in a lot of blockbusters these days is thin and comes off seeming like filler. Here, Raimi and the film's screenwriters successfully pull off frontloading the film with a lot of compelling character moments. As for the visuals, the use of CGI is improved here, with Spidey's web-slinging looking noticably better than the first film. A sequence on an elevated train (shot in Chicago) is also astonishingly done.
The acting is also very good here and, in a lot of cases, improved over the first film. Maguire embodies the conflict behind Spidey in more dynamic fashion than he did the first time around. Dunst's performance is also a lot stronger here - largely thanks to not entirely being a lady-in-jeopardy, like she was for most of the first film. Alfred Molina turns into one of the best blockbuster film villains in ages, offering a terrific take on the character. James Franco has improved greatly in his portrayal of Harry Osborn, while JK Simmons is once again flawless as the editor of the Daily Bugle.
"Spider-Man 2" is a highly entertaining blockbuster - while a little overlong, it's still a highlight from a Summer that was occasionally rather uneventful at the movies.
VIDEO: "Spider-Man 2" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is generally good, although a few mild issues do take away from the overall impression a bit. Sharpness and detail are fine enough: the picture appeared crisp and clear for the most part, but some sequences appeared a tad softer than the rest and the movie as a whole didn't present the kind of crystal clear look I'd expected.
Some minor edge enhancement intruded on the presentation at times, as did a few slight compression artifacts. The print used, however, seemed largely clean, as no marks, specks or other faults appeared. However, some grain was occasionally visible. Colors remained bright and vivid, with solid saturation and no smearing or other faults. Overall, this was an above-average presentation, but it comes a little short of the kind of polish and sleekness I would expect from the look of a title like this.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation fared better than the video quality. "Spider-Man 2" isn't exactly the consistent assault on the ears that one might expect from something like this, but the film's dialogue-driven passages really don't need a great deal of accompaniment from the rear speakers. However, that certainly doesn't mean that they don't have work to do: the action sequences put the surrounds to good work, with a lot of directional effects and effective information that's well-integrated and seamless. Audio quality is terrific, as sound effects seemed dynamic and well-recorded, while dialogue remained crisp and clear. Bass, especially when Doc Ock was on his way, was quite powerful at times. The Superbit DVD edition of the film includes a DTS track, but this edition does not.
EXTRAS: There are two commentaries included on the first disc: one with director Sam Raimi, actor Tobey Maguire, producer Avi Arad, co-producer Grant Curtis and the other with animatronics creator Steve Johnson, visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk, visual effects designer John Dykstra, puppetmaster Eric Hayden, visual effects producer Lydia Bottegoni, and animation supervisor Anthony LaMolinara. The first commentary offers a very good look at the making of the production from an overall view. We learn more about some of the technical aspects of the film, as well as some thoughts on the visuals and a lot about how the cast and crew would try to proceed, improve and change their approach for the second film. Maguire was good on a commentary with actor JK Simmons on the Superbit edition of "Spider-Man", and he's amusing again here with Raimi. The other commentary offers a more in-depth look at the technical aspects of the shoot, with a lot of discussion on how some of the large and also, how some of the less obvious effects moments were achieved.
"Spidey Sense 2" offers an optional fact/trivia subtitle track that can run along with the movie. There are also a series of short featurettes ("Web-i-sodes"), including: "Costume Design", "Comic-Con Q & A", "J. Jonah Jameson" and "Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson". A very funny blooper reel runs about 7-1/2 minutes. Rounding out the first disc is a music video for Train's "Ordinary" and previews for "Spider-Man", "Spider-Man 2", "Christmas With the Kranks", "Hitch" (the "Hitch" preview also runs before the main menu), "Spanglish", "Seinfeld", "The Forgotten" (a film that, while not without some issues, I really liked), "White Chicks" and the "Hellboy" DVD.
The second DVD in this Special Edition starts off with "Making the Amazing", which is a series of featurettes that, when played back-to-back (via the available "play all" option), totals a little over two hours. The documentary as a whole visits with - at some point - the actors and many members of the film's crew (as well Stan Lee and Marvel's Avi Arad). We learn about the cast/crew's reaction to the success of the first feature and how they proceeded in going towards the sequel, the visual effects, sound and music, editing, the script and story, direction, practical effects, stunts, the Spidey web-slinging scenes ("Spydercam", which shows the camera rig that captures the sequences/background plates) and more. The documentary offers an solid look at the production, with a lot of solid behind-the-scenes footage. Some of the interviews get a bit too much into praise at times, but the majority of the chat throughout is pretty informative. Definitely worth a viewing.
Next up is a series of featurettes, including "Hero in Crisis", which takes a look at the evolution of the Peter Parker character. It's mainly promotional, so if you've watched the movie, there's really not much need to sit through this piece. "Ock-Umentary: Eight Arms to Hold You" is a look at the creation of the Doc Ock character, with discussion by Stan Lee and members of the film's production crew. We learn about the conception of the character for the film and the technical details behind pulling off the Doc Ock sequences. "Interwoven" takes a look at the female characters in the film.
Next up is "Enter the Web", which is an interactive, fly-on-the-wall look at the production of the Spidey/Doc Ock fight sequence towards the end of the film. It's interesting to be able to just sit back and watch the workings of the set, and it's fun to look at it all from different angles. Finally, we get a gallery of paintings and two looks at the "Spider-Man 2" video game.
Final Thoughts: "Spider-Man 2" presents an effort superior over the first picture, as it offers stronger action, more compelling drama and a better villain. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition offers fine video quality, solid audio and a lot of insightful and enjoyable supplements. Recommended. Also available are the Spider-Man 2: DVD Gift Set, Spider-Man 2: Superbit Edition DVD