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SPIDER-MAN 2.1

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Tobey Maguire,  Kirsten Dunst,  Alfred Molina, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J. K. Simmons, Elizabeth Banks, Megina Tovah
Director:  Sam Raimi
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 
Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  136 Minutes (movie) plus features on second disc
Release date:  April 16, 2007

"I believe there's a hero in all of us…gives us strength…makes us noble…even though sometimes we have to give up the thing we want the most…"

Film ****

The recent Marvel films such as Spider-Man and X-Men, Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings, and the real-life hockey story Miracle demonstrate the magical ability of movies to take classic books, myths, and even real-life events and translate them into even more transcendent art for the ages. 

It seems that over the years, there are different types of pop icons and characters that stay with us.  There are the obvious "cool" characters we want to emulate like cowboys, the Fonz and Mr. Spock, who was very "cool" in a scholarly way.  Then there are the screwed-up characters with whom we can more easily relate.  Charlie Brown may have been one of the oldest ones, or maybe Clark Kent, Superman's un-cool alter ego.  Peter Parker was a super-nerd, and even with his superpowers, he can't get it together.  His personal relationships are chaotic, and he can't even deliver pizzas on time!  Marvel's publisher warned creator Stan Lee that no one wanted to hear about a hero with problems, but Lee's genius prevailed (and Lee eventually became Marvel's publisher!)  Sam Raimi and his amazing team have translated Lee’s vision to the big screen wonderfully.  Spider-Mans' gift is his curse.  And his success as a hero and a successful franchise is well-deserved.  He was my first comic-book purchase and my favorite toy as a child. 

"No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, it's the ones I love who will always be the ones who pay…I want a life of my own…I am Spider-Man no more."

Many critics found the second installment even better than the first, but I am not sure I agree.  The first installment was excellent in my opinion, especially because "origins" movies and books tend to be too cerebral for most audiences.  Yet I thought it was very accessible and on par with Marvel’s incredible X-Men series.  In this second installment of the accidental arachnid, the science unleashed by Doc Oc seems fantastical to me even for a comic book movie.  Also, the moment when Parker is free of Spider-Man is more corny than comical to me, with B.J. Thomas’ classic Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head making me wince more than smile. The ending was really no big surprise.  But the personal relationships and powerful action sequences are even better this time around, so I think the movie deserves all the praise in the world.  I think I paid far too much attention to advance reviews…

Toby McGuire proves even more that he was a good choice to play the tortured hero who is also just the kid next door.  He seems even more heroic as his personal problems become more, well, personal.  Kirsten Dunst is even more ethereal and lovely this time around and as Mary Jane Watson grows, Dunst is able to take the character beyond the typical heroine role and make her blossom into a real person.  This is something never accomplished in most sci-fi or fantasy productions.  These movies also top most of them by featuring two excellent villains in a row. 

The incredibly talented and charismatic Alfred Molina was a great choice for the villain since he is so good at portraying characters we could dislike but find ourselves admiring such as the adulterous revolutionary in Frida.   He finally gets the blockbuster role he has always deserved and is able to portray the inner struggles of Octavius as a well-meaning scientist caught up in insane circumstances.  I am not sure I buy the idea that his tentacles talk to him, and in the technical commentary it is revealed that they actually wanted separate personalities for each arm!  Call me conservative, but isn’t just having the mechanical arms wild enough without giving them intelligence and consciousness?  What next, Doc Oc goes on Jerry Springer to discuss his arms’ emotional dependencies and then he fights himself?   Yet Molina’s performance rises above these quirks and ennobles the savage villain who threatens to tear the very flesh off the bones of Mary Jane Watson.

Regrettably the few extra minutes in this cut neither add to nor take away from the film’s overall impact.   

Video ****

Columbia Tri Star continues to hold up an excellent standard in their DVD products.   I could not locate any problems at all, which just allows the excellent production of the movie itself to shine through. 

Audio ****

Readers of my reviews know how much I love DTS but I doubt it would have been much better than the incredible Dolby 5.1 mix here.  Considering how the dialogue mixes with the soundtrack and the sounds of the big city, you can still hear everything at just the right level.  As a part-time music engineer, I know how hard it is just to mix music and vocals, let alone sound effects too, so hats off to everyone involved.  As with the video, this DVD translates the original production into the home medium marvelously.

Features *1/2

It should be noted that Disc Two is entirely new in version 2.1.  Obviously this set was released to pump up interest in the third installment and to share even more features. 

The new disc unfortunately has very little of interest.  The Sneak Peek of Spider-Man 3 is great of course, but you can see it in theatres or on the internet for free.  The “Inside 2.1” featurette on Disc One simply another pop-up “factoid” feature that happens as you watch the film.  I am not sure what to say about the commentary by Producer Laura Ziskin and Screenwriter Alvin Sargent, who clearly know so much about the film but have little to say and what is said is not very interesting, so that answers the mystery of why it was not included in the original DVD release.

There is a special effects featurette.  It is mostly interesting but when the technicians discuss Doc Oc falling into the water in his final scene, the beginning of the scene is played over and over again. Maybe they can watch one little thing over and over but it is not only uninteresting to most audiences but I am not exaggerating at all to say that it nearly made me puke with motion sickness. 

The Multi-Angle feature shows an orchestra recording the score with Danny Elfman and scenes from the movie in smaller “picture in picture” style.  Even though I love orchestral music, this became uninteresting after only a few minutes and I am not sure why.  The music is great but Elfman’s compositions are like flavored popcorn that add to the film but then are forgotten.  I don’t think his music will ever be featured in concerts across America as John Williams’ has been.  His music needs the film even more than the films need the music.

Trailers for Spider-Man 3 and the Spider-Man 3 video game are also included.

Summary :

The best superhero ever (in my opinion) got another great installment in Spider-Man 2 and now we have a few more minutes of film and features to amuse us.  

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