Stan Lee Review

Stan Lee
Stan Lee
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The new documentary Stan Lee from Jiro Dreams of Sushi director David Gelb is about the late Marvel Comics Chief talking about his aim of writing books that would entertain readers while at the same time being inspiring and educational. Unfortunately, none of these aspects are present in Geld’s film which is simply a dull bit of corporate propaganda virtually ignoring all the controversies surrounding Lee as he cameos in Disney’s Marvel movies stand out as career highlights.

A straightforward linear narration about Stanley Martin Lieber begins with his birth in New York in 1922 and shifts across several decades through generically filled historical montages. Geld may be good at handling food photogenically but he seemed to have stumbled on choosing a representation for a visual medium legend. In order to represent this, there are long parts where there is only Lee’s voice-over on static shots of ugly dioramas pretending to be his humble childhood home or small models showing young Lee silently staring at movie theater screens. These eerie sets recur throughout the picture, leaving one with the impression that it was done on the cheap. The film improves slightly when it uses vaguely period-appropriate clips elsewhere, although more comic book like art would have been better. The best images are when they animate some pages from the comics that include Thor’s lightning crackling or speech bubbles appearing in them adapted for such page effects.

In Stan Lee, the new documentary from Jiro Dreams of Sushi director David Gelb, the late Marvel Comics chief talks about his goal to create books that were entertaining, but also inspirational and educational. Unfortunately, Gelb’s film has none of these qualities, delivering only an insipid piece of corporate propaganda that largely glosses over the controversy surrounding Lee while presenting his cameos in Disney’s Marvel films as the highlight of a long career.

The story of Stanley Martin Lieber is presented in a fairly straightforward chronology, starting with his birth in New York in 1922 and transitioning through the decades via highly generic historical montages. Geld excels at filming food but he seems to have been stumped by how to present visuals for a film about a legend of a visual medium. Long stretches feature Lee’s voice played over static shots of ugly dioramas meant to represent his humble childhood home or a creepy model of a young, mouth-agape Lee sitting in a movie theater. These off-putting sets are reused throughout the film, making the whole production feel cheap. The vaguely period-appropriate footage used elsewhere is an improvement, but it’s a shame there isn’t more comic-style art used. The visuals are at their most dynamic when adding splashes of animation to pages of the comic books Lee helped create, whether it’s Thor’s lightning crackling or text bubbles filling in to give the impression of dialogue manifesting on the page.

There are a few surprising bits of information about Lee’s life in the film, including being an originator of comic strips used to train financial officers during World War II, but for the most part, this documentary is a whitewashed account of Marvel. The film has been denounced by Neal Kirby, son of Jack Kirby, who rightly points out how much it diminishes his father’s contribution to characters such as Black Panther, Iron Man, and Hulk among others. While he is portrayed as some type of little genius who became an editor at age 17 for Marvel’s predecessor Timely Comics instead there isn’t much left to say – promotion happened when Kirby and Joe Simon left for better opportunities at DC Comics which would later be known as “DC Comics”. Ditto the eventual Marvel departures of Kirby and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, who both expressed dissatisfaction with how Stan was taking credit for their work and dominating the spotlight as editor-in-chief. It was all said by him in a radio broadcast in 1987 that went on hotly with Lee whereby each one claimed what they did; however, his statement that he created Fantastic Four, Spiderman, or Thor from scratch before selecting artists whom he deemed fit may be just in.

Lee is presented as a revolutionary hero who took on the Comics Code Authority, co-created the X-Men and Black Panther to fight racism, and invented female heroes like Black Widow and Susan Storm because he loved his wife so much. Once in a while, Lee lets slip about less heroic endeavors such as self-dealing where as editor-in-chief he would pay himself like a freelance writer, or even that Fantastic Four was mostly crafted trying to emulate DC’s Justice League team format.

Stan Lee is frustratingly both narrow in its scope and vague in its facts. At one time we hear Lee lamenting over Marvel being sold (including the characters he had helped create), yet nothing is mentioned about those lawsuits which he eventually won for a percentage of the rights to these characters being exploited in cinemas. On the other hand, spending so much time on how many letters Marvel received from its fans is just a way for Lee to show off and it completely lacks any human touch or humility that Trekkies portrays in 1997 when dealing with this subject.

Expecting anything more than a softball game from Stan Lee is ridiculous: because otherwise what would be strange about having one among all those Disney+ Marvel offerings? But here, Disney also puts itself front and center: From an image of Lee at The Avengers premiere to his various cameos throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney’s film adaptations are positioned as the ultimate achievement of Marvel Comics. For instance, he might have been okay with it since he used another name when working in comics mainly out of shame. And yet it’s just another slap in the face for all of those creators who helped to change what comic books could be like.


In this documentary, Stan Lee has completely ignored all the criticisms about the head of Marvel Comics, leaving out other writers and artists who equally deserve a mention. However, this has made the film to be one of those uninspiring documentaries that only build on the theme of establishing a brand. This is actually a film for individuals who only associate Lee with appearances in various films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and do not wish to think about him as well as his legacy within the comics industry in general but just view it as an imaginary world produced by Lee during his lifetime.

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