Disney+ and Marvel give a look at the life and career of the man many believe to be the mastermind of Marvel in the documentary, “Stan Lee.” This documentary, told in Stan Lee’s own words, describes his upbringing in New York City, how he started in comic books, his rise to the top of Marvel, and his emergence as a pop culture icon thanks to the cameos in Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
For fans of Stan Lee, much of the information revealed in this documentary is probably common knowledge. This is far from the first documentary to look at Stan Lee’s life, and it probably won’t be the last. Marvel, either through comic books or the MCU, has become a pillar of pop culture, and Stan Lee played a major role in that development.
This documentary also gave a great look at many of the characters that Stan Lee helped develop over the years. Many of the characters that have become synonymous with the Marvel brand had issues written by Stan Lee. He was a major force behind what we love today.
If there’s one major criticism of this documentary, it’s how it glosses over the less flattering aspects of Lee’s tenure at Marvel. The film acknowledges issues Lee had with co-creators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko but doesn’t go into too much detail, just painting them as disagreements. Both issues came to a point where Ditko and Kirby each left the company, so they were clearly more than disagreements. Much like Lee, Kirby and Ditko are no longer with us, so the only firsthand accounts we have are from interviews with Kirby where he certainly painted Lee in an unflattering light. Kirby’s son even tore this documentary apart. While I’m certain, his views were painted by his father’s opinions, I’m also certain there is plenty of truth in what he said. No one created the behemoth that is Marvel alone, even if a lot of history wants to remember it as simply Stan Lee.
In 2015, I got the pleasure to meet Stan Lee, and he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Caring and kind, he was willing to talk to everyone about Marvel and its success. In that conversation, he gave credit to both Kirby and Ditko. Maybe he had changed his mind on their contributions, and it was too little, too late for their families, especially Kirby’s. Or maybe he always thought of them as a major part of the team but didn’t express it well enough when he was younger. I can’t say which of those it is, but I had always heard about the rift between Lee and Kirby, so I wasn’t expecting him to be as complimentary as he was.
In the end, this was an enjoyable documentary, as long as you watch it with a grain of salt. It’s not a fluff piece made to look like Stan Lee was this wunderkind who knew everything, but it’s also not a completely accurate retelling of what happened. It’s what happened through Stan Lee’s own words. A lot of it is accurate, while a lot of it is accurate as he saw it, even though others would see it differently. Still, if you are a fan of Stan Lee, it’s worth a watch.