Tribeca 2023- “Stan Lee

David Gelb’s new documentary “Stan Lee” is, for this critic, an important film for two reasons.

The first being that the life and career of Stan Lee are inspiring to everyone young and old. Lee was a dreamer who worked hard to make his dreams not only come true, but accessible to everyone.

The second, and probably most important to me, is how the film reminded me of how fun and creative comic books (and those who create them) can be. As today’s cinemas drown in cookie-cutter comic films that are only discernible by their lead character, I have turned my back on the genre.

The tagline for the film claims, “His origin story. His legacy. In his own words.” What this engrossing documentary gets right is allowing Stan Lee (through many archival interviews) to tell his story in his own entertaining way.

Gelb’s film begins with the origin story of New York born Stanley Lieber, who would later take the name Stan Lee as a pen name. It n the beginning, the name change was because he didn’t want to be associated with the perceived lower art form of writing comic books. During those early years, no one fully embraced the power of what comics could do.

Lee’s unique voice narrates his time from gopher to young editor to creator of Marvel Comics and his influences on the characters he created.

What lit Lee’s fuse and sent him on his unshakable path was when he was given the task of creating a team of superheroes to compete with DC’s popular Justice League.

It was The Fantastic Four that exploded from Lee’s unlimited imagination. In doing so, he made superheroes more human, as each one had real-world issues such as anger, fear, egos, etc.

Stan Lee would craft the story and Jack Kirby would illustrate. When the pictures were complete, Lee would write the dialogue. This collaboration worked and the famed “Marvel Method” was born.

Ever the groundbreaker, Lee changed comics every chance he could. He was the first to make a teenager the main hero (Spider Man) after being told teens can only be sidekicks, he and Kirby created the first Black superhero (Black Panther), and Lee always strived to make sure there was a moral lesson in every story.

As the man says, “If you really want to change things and make ‘em better, you’ve gotta plunge in. You gotta be a part of the process.”

Gelb keeps his film moving at a swift but always enthralling pace. The director allows the audience to come away with a deeper understanding of Lee’s process and in many cases, his heart.

Stan Lee is an icon, and his life story is full of motivational and entertaining moments to be savored. Telling too much of what the documentary holds would be to rob viewers of the pleasure of listening to the man tell them his tale.

Is David Gelb’s “Stan Lee” fan service? Perhaps, but the director seems to respect his subject and lets his film show Lee, warts and all. Lest we forget, humans are flawed, and Stan Lee was not immune. His life and journey through the world of comic books makes for an absorbing documentary.

Modern Hollywood and the fanboy culture of today have destroyed the wonder and joy that was once the world of comics.

Stan Lee the man and “Stan Lee” the documentary reminds us of those thrilling days of yesteryear when imagination and heart, not numbers and release dates, drove the comic book world. Frankly, this is the most entertaining film Marvel Studios has produced in many years.



Stan Lee

Directed by David Gelb

NR, 86 Minutes, Marvel Studios/Genius Brands International