April 30, 2007
In a blatant attempt to cash in on the theatrical release of Spider-Man 3 (2007), the powers that be have revisited Spider-Man 2 (2004), added eight minutes and re-released it on DVD with the nifty 2.1 moniker and a few new extras so that Spidey completists will feel compelled to buy it. But is it worth getting for the casual fan?
While the first film had everybody’s favourite webslinger square off against one of his classic enemies, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), this movie features another classic bad guy, Dr. Octopus (Molina), a brilliant scientist whose experiments with a collection of mechanical arms goes horribly wrong, driving him insane. The threat of Doc Ock isn’t the only problem that Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Maguire) faces. He’s still a struggling college student trying desperately to make ends meet while still pining for the lovely Mary Jane Watson (Dunst) and trying save his Aunt May’s (Harris) house from foreclosure. Peter’s relationship with Harry Osborn (Franco) is still strained because Harry believes that Spider-Man killed his father and he resents Peter’s relationship with the superhero.
Peter’s central dilemma is his obligation to fight crime as Spider-Man and having some semblance of a personal life. If he professed his love for Mary Jane, she would become vulnerable to his enemies. So, he decides to stop being Spidey and lead a normal life much as depicted in issue #50 of Amazing Spider-Man in a story entitled, “Spider-Man No More!” As a result, this film feels much more steeped in the folklore of the comic book than the first one which was fairly faithful to the wallcrawler’s origins but dropped the ball when it came to depicting the Green Goblin. Sam Raimi and co. do a much better job with Dr. Octopus, even building on the character by giving him a tragic dimension. It doesn’t hurt that they cast a classically trained actor like Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. Like Willem Dafoe before him, he brings a certain gravitas to the role that not only gives his character depth but also makes him a viable threat to Spider-Man.
Unlike many other comic book movies, the Spider-Man films are anchored by strong screenplays that draw heavily upon the comic books and this film is no different. It expertly builds upon the character arcs created in the first film. Mary Jane is tired of Peter not being there for her and gets engaged to a more reliable guy even though she doesn’t love him. Harry is still obsessed with killing Spidey and avenging his father’s death while also managing to blow a lot of his family’s fortune on Doc Ock’s failed experiments. What makes the film work so well is that it takes the time to get us emotionally invested in Peter’s plight, including his unrequited love for Mary Jane. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst still have the undeniable chemistry from the first film. It is even stronger in this one as Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship gets more complicated.
Raimi ups the ante on the film’s action sequences as he feverishly employs all of the camera tricks he’s used over the years to successfully translate comic book action to the big screen. He knows exactly how to ratchet up the tension to unbearable levels, like when Doc Ock robs a bank and takes Aunt May hostage. He and Spidey fight frenetically over her as she hangs precariously from a high ledge on a building.
On the negative side, this extended cut features more of comedian Hal Sparks improvising with Spidey in an elevator that drags on for what seems like an eternity and has nothing to do with the narrative of the film. This scene should have been cut as it feels forced and takes you out of the movie. That being said, Spider-Man 2 hits all of its dramatic peaks and valleys with the skill and ease of a confident Hollywood production. It is the rare comic book adaptation that taps into its loyal fanbase while also having a broad appeal (as evident from its earth-shattering box office returns).
The first disc features a new audio commentary by producer Laura Ziskin and screenwriter Alvin Sargent. He admits a lack of familiarity with Spider-Man before this film and not really being a fan of superhero comics in general. He even claims to having read very few Spidey comics for research which gives the impression that this was a strictly a paycheck gig for him. Sargent obviously was one of many writers who worked on the movie and this becomes readily apparent when he questions the logic of a particular scene much to Ziskin’s surprise. She spends most of the time content to point out bits of trivia, like cameos by family members of the crew. She gamely tries to get Sargent involved but he offers terse responses to most of her lame questions making for an oddly uncomfortable track.
“Spidey Sense 2.1” allows you to watch the movie with a subtitled trivia track that offers all sorts of factoids and production notes.
The second disc starts off with “Inside Spider-Man 2.1” which takes a look at the origins of this new version, showing the differences between it and the theatrical cut. Unfortunately, Hal Sparks’ cameo is one of the scenes that was extended. The film’s editor and a couple of the producers, including the pretentious Avi Arad, talk about this new footage.
“With Great Effort, Comes Great Recognition” features interviews with the special effects team that won an Academy Award for their work on the movie. They talk about the nomination process, their reaction to getting nominated and gushing about winning.
“Visual Effects Break Down” is a five-part look at the SFX for this version that can be viewed individually or altogether. For fans of this kind of stuff, these featurettes are loaded with technical information.
Finally, “Danny Elfman Scores Spider-Man 2,” a multi-angle featurette that examines his work on the movie via behind-the-scenes footage.