From Marvel Studios and acclaimed director
David Gelb, "STAN LEE" is the official documentary film about Stan "The Man" Lee and his journey to become one of the most influential people in the world of comic books and pop culture. Tracing his life from his challenging upbringing as Stanley Lieber to the meteoric rise of Marvel Comics, "STAN LEE" tells Stan's story in his own words. Using only archival material - from personal home video, interviews and audio recordings - the film examines Stan's origin story and what emerged from it: a far-reaching universe of stories with three-dimensional characters that have resonated with people all over the world. In this way, "STAN LEE" is both a story of comics and passion, and an intimate portrait of a man, his philosophy and its lasting impression.
Stan Lee is a now famous name in comics, with the help of a great, great many many he became the face of the empire for Marvel heroes, villains and more. He became famous for basing his characters and his interpretations of others’ creations on real world experiences and having them reflect the modern world around them. Unfortunately, this Disney+ documentary sticks to the myth, rather than the reality.
Diving into the arc of Lee’s career and sticking primarily to surface-level details of his life from childhood to his early years in the comics industry to the eventual rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this documentary is, to its credit, very well structured and segmented into different parts of his life. It doesn’t really go into as much detail as it should, though, providing a basic “Stan Lee 101” approach that reinforces many commonly-rehashed myths about his career. What we learn in this documentary are basic things Stan Lee fans already know. So while it’s great for newer fans (coming from the MCU movies, or just younger in general or new to comics) if viewers are fans of his comic work, chances are they already knew these stories.
It would be helpful, too, if this documentary focused more on Lee’s personal life, as the professional side is vastly more well-trod territory. While it touches on his marriage and daughter, it only does so ever so slightly, covering the basics of his marriage to Joan Lee and the birth of his daughter J.C., and finally the birth and loss of his son. It does have moments of Joan speaking, but only once or twice.
This is at least partly due to the fact that Lee is also the “narrator” himself. The filmmakers use past interviews and clips from his life to have him (and a few others) lead this film. In doing so, they inadvertently limit the subject matter to only talk about things that have already covered. It would have created a far more well-rounded narrative to have seen other people talk about their experiences with Stan, inside or out of Marvel. Viewers do get a moment at the end with Kevin Feige which is very touching, but precious little more – particularly when it comes to Lee’s legendary self-mythologizing or his notorious disagreements with co-creators over proper credit.
To that end, this documentary unfairly focuses on Stan Lee’s contributions and kind of leaves Ditko’s, Kirby’s, and others’ involvement to the side. Disney clearly tried to avoid a controversial topic, but in doing so, they ultimately highlighted it by omission. They have only included one part dealing with Lee and Kirby’s opposing viewpoints. It really made Kirby’s view look more negative in nature, which is very unfortunate and extremely disingenuous – and dishonest.
Visually, though, the documentary has an interesting visual novelty. Along with clips and images from the time era being covered, the filmmakers use a claylike diorama for important moments, reminiscent of using a shoe box and making a little scene inside it to show a snippet of time in history or from a novel. It was actually a uniquely fantastic way to convey pieces of time when they didn’t have images or clips to go along with it.
In its way, this is a heartfelt documentary that will remind some of how much they love Stan Lee. But by only lightly touching on some more rocky moments in Lee’s life, like the bitter acrimony between Kirby and he or his late-career lawsuit against the company he became the face of, in the final analysis it is a hagiographical surface-level puff piece concocted to fluff up Marvel comics and, by extension, Disney itself. Despite that, Stan Lee can be mildly enjoyable when taken for what it is. Hopefully, it acts as a springboard for viewers to dig deeper into Lee’s life – and get the whole story.
This Documentary is heart warming and helps reminds us fans of why we love Stan Lee. It's definitely a recommendation for new and upcoming fans, but unfortunately it's really lacking in more details that us current fans would love to see. And the omission of credit to those who also built Marvel is is very sad indeed.
Stan Lee: Documentary-Omitting Credit Where It's Due
- Writing - 2/102/10
- Storyline - 3/103/10
- Acting - 5/105/10
- Music - 8/108/10
- Production - 5/105/10
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