If you’ve seen a movie based on a Marvel comic, odds are you’ve seen the old guy with the mustache and, more often than not, sunglasses. He shows up and says something funny and then disappears, only to show up in the next film as a different character with a different funny thing to say.
This is Stan Lee, comic superstar and co-creator of Spider- Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, and pretty much every other Marvel superhero that dates back to the 1960s and ’70s.
As a prominent pop culture icon, Stan was one of the most vocal advocates of the power of comic books up until his death in 2018, and now, five years later, we get a chance to know the man himself with Disney+’s Stan Lee, an entertaining if somewhat perfunctory documentary that is more honest than I was expecting, if still a bit sanitized and white washed.
Stan himself narrates the documentary via a mixture of archived interview soundbites which naturally gives rise to questions about objectivity.
Stan Lee isn’t an in-depth tell-all put together by impartial researchers, but instead feels like sitting down to listen to your grandpa as he talks about his life as he remembers it. One must also remember that, with all due respect to his legacy and legitimate creativity, business acumen, and general ingenuity, Stan was not afraid to take the spotlight in his day. Indeed, he often relished it.
So while Stan Lee does touch on the main events and touchstones in the Marvelous Maestro’s life, one cannot help but feel like some things are being left out or misrepresented, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
That being said, there were a couple of moments that surprised me with their honesty. Stan and his equally legendary collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko famously had fallings out over who deserved credit for what creations, and Stan Lee does not shy away from this conflict, nor does it choose sides and declare that one party was right and the other party was wrong.
It is true that Kirby and Ditko are very much out of focus in this documentary, but one must remember that this is a documentary about Stan Lee, not Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. It is also not a documentary about Marvel Comics itself; once Stan essentially retires the film jumps from the late ’70s to 2010, leaving a lot of history unexplored (on the plus side, this means the documentary never turns into an advertisement for Marvel or Disney, which I must admit I was concerned was a possibility).
If there’s one thing I can fault Stan Lee for other than the predominant lack of objectivity it’s this: We never really get into any real depth, instead opting to jump from heading to heading on the Stan Lee Wikipedia page.
Don’t get me wrong, Stan Lee is still an entertaining documentary that does have a lot of truth to it. One should just make sure to approach things with that ever-important grain of salt.
Stan Lee is on Disney+.