(movie review portion taken from prior DVD review.)
"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.
"Spider-Man 2.1" offers an additional 9 minutes of footage worked into an "extended cut" of the film. The main additions here are a couple of fairly brief extensions to fight sequences that were completed (with additional visual effects work) for use in this cut of the film. There are also a few minor character moments added back in. These didn't add much to the story, but were mildly interesting to see.
VIDEO: "Spider-Man 2.1" 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: New here is an audio commentary from producer Laura Ziskin and screenwriter Alvin Sargent, who provide a reasonably good discussion of the production. Ziskin does much of the chatting, talking about the inspiration behind certain sequences, casting, locations and more. There are some stretches of silence throughout the track, but this is a decent commentary overall. The special edition offered 2 commentaries, so this does seem like a step down, though.
Also on the first disc is "Spidey Sense", a trivia track that offers up factoids throughout the film, as well as some additional behind-the-scenes footage. Moving on to the second disc, we get "Inside Spider-Man 2.1", which visits with producer Avi Arad and others as they discuss the changes that are included in this extended cut of the film, as well as the reasons why the additions were made. "With Great Effort, Comes Great Recognition" is a shorter featurette that features the award-winning visual effects team on the film.
"Visual Effects Breakdown" is a series of five different featurettes that add up to a total of a little over 30 minutes of running time. These pieces feature the film's visual effects designers discussing some of the challenges of the film's major visual effects sequences and going piece-by-piece in some scenes in order to illustrate the amount of layers and details involved in the scene. "Danny Elfman Scores Spider-Man 2" is a multi(2)-angle look at the composer and musicians at work creating the score for the film. Finally, we get a short sneak peek at the third in the "Spider-Man" series. This is more like an extension of the trailer, with some additional cast interviews briefly discussing their work on the third film. This runs a couple minutes. Last, but not least, we get trailers for "Spider-Man 3" and the "Spider-Man 3" game.
Final Thoughts: "Spider-Man 2" remains entertaining in this extended cut of the picture, but the differences between this extended cut and the original cut are minor. The extras on the prior Special Edition were also more extensive. Those who already own a prior edition of the film should hold on to it, as there's not a strong reason to upgrade here. Those who are still interested in the new footage should try a rental. Those who haven't gotten the original Special Edition of "Spider-Man 2" can find it online for as low as $9.99.
Review, currentfilm.com 4/6/07.
The Film A-