Review by C.J. Bunce
No matter what you think of Stan Lee before watching the new documentary about the life of the creator of the Marvel pantheon of superheroes… you’ll come away thinking how interesting a guy he really is. Sure, Stan Lee is the smiling, funny, cheery outspoken genius who we get to see in cameos in recent Marvel Studios movies and maybe get a glimpse of in passing at conventions, but Film Buff/POW! Entertainment’s new film With Great Power… The Stan Lee Story shows a personal side of the guy fans know as Stan the Man, a side that hasn’t been captured before in films about the history of comics.
Stan Lee has been the focus of several past documentaries, but this new film covers Stan from his youth as Stanley Lieber until the creator we know today. Stan Lee is a great storyteller–not only in his classic comic books–but telling stories to people about himself and the comic book industry. Years of working in the Empire State Building’s Marvel Bullpen, writing Stan’s Soapbox, physically animating scenes he wanted his artists to portray, as well as lecturing to college campuses and at conventions have allowed Stan to really convey a lot of humor and sincerity. With Great Power… The Stan Lee Story hones in on the theme that Stan’s characters reflect aspects of his own personality, especially Peter Parker.
Key to the film is a heavy focus on interviews with Stan and his wife Joan. They are a fun couple and watching them interact in their Los Angeles home is very endearing. Other interviews are left to snippets, nicely edited to keep the focus on Stan instead of other folks’ role in Stan’s life as you might see in past documentaries in the industry. But the subjects interviewed for even these bits are well-selected, people like Gene Colan, Joe Simon, and Roy Thomas. A fair bit of With Great Power… The Stan Lee Story deals with Stan’s up and down relationship with Jack Kirby and a lesser amount about Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man. We get to see why World War II was featured in early Timely/Marvel comics and why the recent Captain America movies smartly include the World War II elements in their stories. While Stan was in the service, he served alongside the likes of cartoonist Theodor Geisel and director Frank Capra. Actors and producers give several positive contributory thoughts, too.
Themes were important to Stan’s stories, addressing issues of the day, and he always had an eye toward hot topics, and important topics for kids and adults alike, such as alienation and acceptance, tolerance, kids feeling like outcasts, stressing inclusiveness, and recognizing the value of youth culture. Stan is proud that he included minorities as main characters in comic books before other publishers.
While the key focus of With Great Power… The Stan Lee Story is the man and his great contributions to entertainment and the superhero genre, a lesser amount is spent on the business of comics, such as a failed media enterprise and Marvel’s bankruptcy. Stan comes off as everyman, a humble guy continually visibly delighted by the success of his creations. He tells fans and interviewers at red carpet events “I created these characters!” As if everyone doesn’t already know.
Bonus features on the DVD include a San Diego Comic-Con 2007 Q&A, documentaries on music in comic book movies, a Stan Lee biographical timeline, an alphabetical list of hundreds characters Stan created, both obscure and famous. The most famous of his creations include: Avengers, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Captain America, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Falcon, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, Ka-Zar, Power Man, Rawhide Kid, S.H.I.E.L.D., Sandman, Scarlet Witch, Sgt. Nick Fury, Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, Thor, Wasp and several X-Men.