(director/writer: David Gelb; cinematographer: Ernesto Lomeli; editors: Andrew McAllister, Jamie Garland, James Long; music: Scott Michael Smith, Michael Dean Parsons; cast: Stan Lee; Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jason Sterman/David Gelb/Brian McGinn; Disney+/Marvel Studios; 2023)
“An efficient corporate-like documentary.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An efficient corporate-like documentary (produced by Marvel Comics and predictably not criticizing their man even when he deserves to be looked at with suspicion over such things as getting writing credits others claimed they did). The disappointing film hones in on the career and creations of Stan Lee (died in 2018, at 95), born as Stanley Martin Lieber, who became the famed comic book writer, who with others created such superheroes (Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, the Scarlet Witch, Black Panther and Black Widow). He was also an editor and publisher. If you want to know more details of his personal life or his many court cases, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Here you will learn more about the characters he created than him.
Director David Gelb (“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”/”The Lazarus Effect”) uses audio interviews, never-before-seen home video footage, archival interviews and other recordings to tell about this American success story legend, as Stan posthumously supplies the first-person voiceover narration.
It’s a conventional documentary, following a storyline told in chronological order. It tells us he was born in 1922 in New York City to Eastern European Jewish immigrants. His family struggled during the Great Depression. His father was a dress cutter, often unemployed. He by chance got into publishing in 1939 after a suggestion by his uncle. At Timely Comics, the predecessor of Marvel, he initially assisted editor Joe Simon and illustrator Kirby. Soon he did text filler and adopted Stan Lee as his name. By 1941, after Simon and Kirby left, he took over as editor.
He volunteered to serve during WWII and was assigned to work on training manuals. Back in civilian life in 1947, he returned to his old job as an editor, art director and writer and put out for his company 100 magazines a month. By 1961, his company was renamed Marvel and the restless Lee shifted his priorities to create characters and stories he could relate to, beginning with the Fantastic Four. The example provided in the film shows the superhero quartet evicted from their headquarters because they could not pay the rent. Another is Spider-Man receiving a check which he was unable to cash because he could not provide identification in spite of his costume.
The Marvel Method created the art first and Lee would then write the words in the captions, as the stories were improvised.
Lee injects his superheroes with an everyday realism. Soon he goes from just being an ordinary comic book distributor in the 1950s to an able spokesman for the industry from the 1960s on. In the 1970s, he became a celebrity.
In later life Lee got carried away making cameos, and looked younger sporting a mustache and a toupee.
On a personal note, he attended in the 1930s the same Bronx High School I did in the late 1950s, Dewitt Clinton.
It played at the Tribeca Film Festival.
REVIEWED ON 6/28/2023 GRADE: B-