He co-created most of your favorite superheroes. Learn about the man who shows up in all the Marvel movies.
Dir. Terry Douglas, Nikki Frakes, & William Lawrence Hess, 2011, 80 min, Viewed via Netflix Instant
Stan Lee’s a peach. Sure, it’s getting kind of tiresome to see him pop up in increasingly obnoxious cameos in the Marvel movies (do you think the screenwriters are actively pressured to keep a part for him in mind while working?), but he’s a great fireball of an eighty-nine-year-old, a man who’s kept up his lust for life and engages actively with his considerable fanbase. And, as With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story shows, he’s kind of great in most other aspects of his life as well.
Yeah, this movie is pretty much a complete hagiography. It calls it’s star a “real superhero” on the poster, for crying out loud. It’s nothing spectacular (nor amazing, nor sensational, nor incredible, nor uncanny, nor astonishing, nor fantastic, nor invincible, nor – how many people will even understand this joke), but it’s pleasant and diverting. Sometimes, that’s just fine.
In case you have somehow missed the last decade of pop culture, Stan Lee is behind pretty much every superhero whom you love… unless you’re a DC fanboy, I guess. He co-created Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and many more beloved (and profitable) comics characters. He didn’t just come up with new book concepts, though. He made superheroes into normal people, grounded them with relatable problems that made Marvel heroes quite different from the gods at DC. He put them all in New York and built up the idea of a shared universe. His influence cannot be understated. He’s worked in the industry for eight decades now, with no signs of stopping.
One weird thing about the movie is that it features a lot of famous people who show up for perhaps one line and then vanish completely. The directors and stars of pretty much every Marvel movie, for instance, are here, but they barely contribute. People who work in comics get a bit more face time, but not much. I suppose it’s to demonstrate how far-reaching Lee’s impact has been, but it makes the movie feel loose and jarring. The only consistent voice is that of Lee himself.
Which, in a way, is sort of appropriate, since the man adores the spotlight. It made so much sense to learn that he originally wanted to be a movie star, because he will put himself in anything and everything based on his work. Yet despite his famewhoring ways, he’s such a genial guy that I can’t hold it against him. It’s also interesting to learn more about his life, which hasn’t always been sunshine and roses. In particular, seeing him and his wife (who have a beautiful relationship) talk about losing one of their children when she was just a baby was rather affecting. And then, when he relates how being denied an adoption because he was Jewish led to the conception of the X-Men, it tells a great example of how our lives affect our art.
With Great Power is nice. That’s the best way to describe it. Not great, not bad, not even okay, but nice. And there’s nothing wrong with that. ‘Nuff said.