Stan Lee review: "Hard not to be moved by this fan-friendly documentary"

Stan Lee (2023)
(Image: © Disney)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Face front: Disney’s fan-friendly doc unpicks the Marvel icon’s history with soft, simple but sure focus.

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As a kid, Stanley Lieber used to watch his unemployed dad desperately scanning newspaper ads for a job. Duly, Stanley decided early on that he wanted “a steady job” for life, and, perhaps, gained an early understanding of life struggles.  

As a 17-year-old, Stan banked a job and a life in comics, also making sure that his work spoke to people. Slickly assembled using archive footage (claymation fills any gaps) and Lee’s recorded voiceover by director David Gelb, this Disney+ doc is a hurried, surface-level celebration more than a complex study of Stan’s story. But it’s a winning one, which unpicks the through lines of Lee’s thinking with spider-nimble clarity. 

Gelb ushers us briskly from New York 1922 to Timely Comics in 1939, where Stan became - effectively - his own boss. Post-war and happily married, Lee continued writing comics and hit gold with some killer ideas: a sorrowful monster, a teen hero, a superhero team… 

The rest is well-told history, but Gelb shows clearly how Lee created heroes/monsters as complex characters, writing what he wanted to read with a guiding sense of empathy. Lee emerges as a moral entertainer and a receptive prism of late-20th-century American culture, especially circa the Vietnam and civil-rights eras. 

Subsequent years and hidden depths are sketchily detailed, though Lee’s conflicts with Steve Ditko aren’t ignored. But as we watch Lee still encouraging ‘true believers’ well into his old age, it’s hard not to be moved: that kid in ’20s New York would’ve loved the guy.

Stan Lee is on Disney+ on June 16. For more upcoming films, check out our 2023 movie release dates.

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Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.