- Movie Rating -

Stan Lee (2023)

| June 17, 2023

Stan Lee, for me, has always been like the world’s coolest uncle – that uncle who drives up to your mom’s house on a chopper.  As the founder and eternal figurehead of Marvel Comics, he had a public image of that reminded us that not all senior citizens are grouchy old fuddy-fuddies.  He understood his audience even into his 90s, understood their problems and also understood that comic books are as good as novels, that they can have the same impact and show youngsters the world through different eyes.

The new documentary Stan Lee, now streaming on – where else? – Disney+ provides this insight but never veers too far off into any territory that you haven’t heard before.  The movie provides an interesting, but unfortunate visual style in that his story alternates personal photographs with recreations using dolls.  Why is that?  Would it be more appropriate to display his story with comic book panels?

Lee was never shy about talking about himself, although this movie feels a touch guarded – perhaps edited together with a lawyer or two in the room.  The film is narrated by Lee himself with his now-legendary vocal intonation, he recalls his own story of being born Stanley Martin Leiber, the son of Romanian-Jewish immigrant parents in Manhattan in 1922 and had a childhood gobbling up any book he could find.  That, of course, gave him a literate mind when teenaged Stan started writing stories for comic books like Captain America.  Beginning so early gave him an insight into what teenagers like himself were reading and what kind of stories they were living.  The thing that always distinguished the characters that he later created like Spider-Man and Hulk and The Fantastic Four was that they had real humanity, real problems, problems of family and identity and, through The X-Men, the problems of being different.  Personally, I could sympathize with them in a way that, quite frankly, I never could with the God-figures of DC’s Justice League.

The idea of the alter-ego came naturally to Lee, who says that he reserved his name Stanley Lieber for the serious writing that he wanted to do later, but that Stan Lee was the alter-ego writing comics about what he felt.  Through his medium he drew kids into a love of reading and he defends comics as a viable part of their education because the short visual medium overcomes a short attention-span.  Trust me, I know.

The film is a nice package.  It paints a portrait of the Stan Lee that we already know, of that great uncle who just seemed to “get us”.  But I detect a bit of a sponge-clean here.  The film never veers into any really questionable stuff, such as his tempestuous relations with Jack Kirby and Mike Ditko over who would get credit for the work.  As Lee became the more prominent figurehead of Marvel Comics and “Excelsior!” became his calling card, the whole of Marvel Comics seemed credited to his efforts.

That’s only lightly brushed in this movie and so, unfortunately, is the battle that Lee and others had to wage with concerned parents and conservative political mouthpieces over whether or not these comic books were contributing the delinquency of America’s youth.  At one point, Lee seemed to be on the same dartboard with America’s parents the way that Hugh Hefner was with America’s feminists.  But the movie lightly brushes past that and onto more positive bits of his biography.

Something more in-depth might have been nice.  Stan Lee feels like the very official story without any real dark corners.  It’s more of a celebration of his creativity and his clever self-promotion, beginning with his early creativity and ending with his retirement doing Hitchcock-like cameos in the MCU.  It’s a nice movie, but I might have appreciated a little more.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2023) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary