The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) — PASS
The Spectacular Spider-Man – The Complete Series (2008–09) — PICK
Spider-Man Trilogy — (2002–07) — PICK
Coinciding with the big-screen release of Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the Blu-ray debut of the web-slinger’s best incarnation ever — and some of the most family-friendly superhero tales of our time; and I don’t mean any of the big-screen Spider-Man films (more on those below).
I’m talking about The Spectacular Spider-Man, the acclaimed animated series that ran two terrific seasons before Disney pulled the plug. The series caught my attention early on for its sharp dialogue, clever plotting, humor and thoughtful moral vision. Peter Parker emerges as an admirable but lovably imperfect hero, capable of insight and maturity, but also thoughtlessness and insensitivity.
Friendship, responsibility and love are important themes. Aunt May isn’t just sweet and decent, but actively involved in Peter’s life, and Pete’s late Uncle Ben represents his moral compass in an important flashback/dream sequence.
Action scenes are cleverly crafted, and Pete’s science smarts are as important as his powers. A funny Cyrano de Bergerac subplot has dumb-jock Flash Thompson desperately turning to Peter to coach him in wooing a brainy beauty: "She likes smartness! And, like, integrity and stuff." So do I!
Also new on Blu-ray is the web-slinger’s best-known screen incarnation, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy, starring Tobey Maguire as our hero and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane.
Defying "middle-movie syndrome," Spider-Man 2 is universally hailed as one of the best superhero movies of all time. Alfred Molina is terrific as Dr. Octopus, and the train set piece is a genre standout. The first film, retelling Spidey’s origin, was also a critical and popular hit, with a very good Willem Dafoe as (a visually uninspired) Green Goblin.
Spider-Man 3 is my second favorite of the three. Yes, it’s overstuffed with villains, but also with energy, humor, spectacle and inspiration. It’s a messy film, but a highly entertaining one, shot through with the same broad moral themes as the previous films: responsibility, sacrifice and, now, forgiveness.
I wish I could recommend Ben Stiller’s James Thurber-adaptation The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. But it’s a crassly condescending Stepford version of Thurber, a poster child for "Hollywood not getting it."
Caveat Spectator: Spectacular Spider-Man: Animated action violence; some suggestive content; some thematic content related to drugs, addiction and gambling. Might be a bit much for younger kids. Spider-Man Trilogy: Stylized, sometimes intense comic-book violence; fleeting mild profanity; fleeting crude language and sensuality. Teens and up.