I am a Fanboy. Though, I’m starting to think I should have my geek-card revoked. See, this film isn’t exactly new. While it’s just finding distribution, it premiered nearly two years ago at Comic-Con. So, how in the hell is it that I just heard about this documentary a couple months back? Bad Fanboy! Luckily for me, our friends over at FilmBuff had a screener waiting for me in the wings.
The film turned out to be pretty much everything I expected. Roughly 80 minutes of Stan Lee chronicling and lending insight to his long career over a series of stills, home videos and stock footage. This is, of course, interspersed with footage from a camera that followed Stan around at home and introduces us to his wife and married life. Pretty standard stuff.
I will say it was nice to see a documentary where the filmmaker isn’t doing the narration and we get to know Stan through his own voice. Especially these days when a lot of documentarians like to make themselves the star of their own docs. I also like the way the film was started and that the filmmakers quickly abandoned this technique. The beginning of the film has interview footage with tons of A-list celebrities (Tobey Maguire, Jon Favreau, etc), primarily those that have appeared in Marvel films, all talking about how great Stan and his characters are. This goes on for several minutes and by the time Paris Hilton appeared onscreen to say “Stan’s hot” I found myself dreading where this was all going. However, the filmmakers use this as a jumping off point and quickly turn to “The Man” himself. From there Stan walks us through his life. From the early days, when he stumbled into writing at Timely Comics at the age of 16, to the present day, where he lives in a post-Comic Book movie BOOM!
I do have to mention a few problems I have with this doc. I almost laughed audibly when I wrote that sentence in the last paragraph that says “Stan walks us through his life.” It would be far more appropriate to say that Stan runs us through his life. I mean, this guy has amazing stories from over six decades in the business. He is the face of comic books… THE FACE! Yet this film is only 80 minutes long. I really wish it could’ve at least gotten a two hour cut. It was sad that the six year period where Stan cranked out some of the most well known comic characters in history from the Fantastic Four to the X-men to the Silver Surfer was merely mentioned in about the time it took you to read that sentence. I would’ve liked to see that covered more. Perhaps in lieu of coverage of CBS’s failed 70s Spiderman live action show. We’d all like to forget that!
I also felt like the doc didn’t know what it wanted to be. It feels like the camera crew did most of their work with interview and stock footage or stuff from Stan’s personal collection of films and photos. The time spent with “The Man” himself seems very short. When you are with him, he’s basically at home with his wife and we get a brief look into their personal life. Now, this takes up a good 15 minutes from an 80 minute film and shows no real deep insights into the man. Just a brief voyeuristic glance behind closed doors for rabid fans like myself. Ultimately, it felt partly to be a film about Stan at home and Stan’s career. Both suffer from this. Personally, I’d like to see a doc on both but in an 80 minute film we don’t really get enough of either.
One more bummer is that there’s not a lot here for true geeks. Most of us know the majority of the stuff covered in the film. It’s still interesting to see some of the influences on Stan’s writing and creative process through juxtaposed footage of things going on in the world at the time. It’s still cool to see Stan tell it one more time, maybe different than you had heard it before, but there’s nothing groundbreaking to be found here. If you don’t know this stuff (aka: not a geek) the stories of how some of the Earth’s mightiest heroes were conceived is truly compelling stuff and should be sought out.
Don’t get me wrong, I picked up a few nuggets on the way. It was really cool to hear the stories of Stan in the creative room (known as the “Bullpen”). I never knew about the Merry Marvel Marching Society (which felt very Disney) and all the stuff about Stan and Jack Kirby in the early days is crack for geeks. Though, I’m not sure this will necessarily fill any true fan’s fix.
One of the reasons Stan is so great is the same reason reason comic book movies have become so great. They have taken the time to show us origins and make us care about the characters that run around in funny suits compelled to fight the forces of evil. This is exactly how Stan Lee put comic books on the map. One of the artists in the film relates a story where Stan told him that Spiderman wasn’t interesting. That it was the man behind the mask that was the real story. The thing people really cared about. Unfortunately, this film didn’t take that note. I would have liked to delve deeper into man behind Stan Lee instead of just rushing through highlights of his storied career.
I doubt this will be considered THEE Stan Lee documentary and I hope someone else will give it a try. Hopefully, before the man passes on. In the end, however, the filmmakers lucked out because Stan is the kind of guy that you could sit in front of a fixed camera for three hours, ask him to just talk and it would still be compelling. The man himself has a passion and exuberance that is contagious and compelling. For that reason alone, you should see it. Though, as hard as it is to say, I’m not sure you can’t just wait for it to come to Netflix.
If you’re not a comic book enthusiast or don’t know anything about Stan Lee, I’m going to bump my score a bit. If you want to get the Cliff Notes on a historic career and amazing man, this may be the right film. For you: