At this point I don’t think there’s anything Stan Lee hasn’t said about comic books. However, the way this documentary presented them was certainly effective. With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story is an Epix channel original documentary about how Stan Lee co-created the comic book characters that became the popular movie stars of today.
They’ve assembled a who’s who of Hollywood to talk about Lee. Interviews with the filmmakers behind the franchises are one new perspective on his work. It’s an impressive array too. Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau, Bryan Singer and even Tobey Maguire, James Franco and Kirsten Dunst are there. Also Brett Ratner, so the director of the beloved X-Men: The Last Stand gets to weigh in on the Marvel phenomenon. (Full disclosure: I like X3, but he’s an interesting choice given the fans.)
Lee himself participates and I was surprised how personal the film gets. We see Lee with his wife and they dance together in a strikingly sweet, intimate moment. Then we see how they bicker, and they even talk about the daughter they lost as an infant. I certainly didn’t expect a comic book documentary to go there. Seeing Lee’s workspace is valuable, and should make all creative types feel validated for their messy rooms.
The doc traces Lee’s career from the very beginning, as a low level Marvel grunt allowed to write the two pages of text that comic books were required to have in order to ship in the mail as books. He took the work seriously and those pages led to writing jobs in the comic books.
The film goes through each character Lee co-created, discussing the artistic inspirations and themes they faced, and the artists who drew them for Lee. This is the part we all know, the heroes with problems, with great power comes great responsibility, the outcast mutants, the angry beast. It is illustrated in a good context of how simple other comic books were at the time, and of course they have to cover this for the casual Epix channel surfer.
The film uses archival material showing Lee through the ages. By the ‘70s he looked like a swinger, although I was most interested to see what he looked like in his youth. I only know the Stan Lee I’ve seen from Mallrats and beyond. I could still recognize the Stan Lee in the early pictures.
I got a personal kick out of seeing the section near the end of the documentary on the movie releases. There’s footage of several red carpet premieres where the journalists interviewing Lee on the red carpet are friends of mine (Scott Huver and Kristen Herold, represent!) That won’t mean much to the rest of you but I enjoyed it.
At 80 minutes, With Great Power is a comprehensive portrait of some 50+ years of Marvel history. They’re able to give it more than just lip service, and service the needs of the corporate entity (they do have movies to promote, you know.) It definitely captures the essence of Stan Lee, and as someone who already knows a lot about this subject, I was able to learn a bit more.