With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story (2010)

2012 #7
Terry Dougas, Nikki Frakes & Will Hess | 80 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English

With Great Power...Stan “The Man” Lee is indeed The Man when it comes to the world of comic books. In the 1960s he revolutionised the medium in the US, introducing complex and realistic characters to a world that had previously focused on perfect super-humans like Superman, Batman and Captain America. In a period of just two years he co-created the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men, and after that rejuvenated Captain America (cancelled a decade earlier) for a modern audience. If there’s anyone in the comic world deserving of a dedicated feature-length documentary, it’s Stan Lee.

Fortunately, co-directors Dougas, Frakes and Hess have crafted a brilliant documentary, both about the man and his works. It’s packed with big-name interviewees, both comic-book-world-famous and genuinely famous: Avi Arad, Kenneth Branagh, Nic Cage, Michael Chiklis, Roger Corman, Kirsten Dunst, Danny Elfman, Harlan Ellison, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, James Franco, Samuel L. Jackson, Jim Lee, Tobey Maguire, Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, Seth Rogen, Bryan Singer, Kevin Smith, Ringo Starr, Patrick Stewart… even Paris Hilton. And that’s just some of them. They leave you in doubt of Lee’s impact and importance.

Even better are the many interviews with Lee himself, plus his associates and his family, which form the backbone of the film to tell the story — the wheres, whens, whos, hows and whys of all he’s done, Spider-Stanboth in his Marvel heyday in the ’60s as well as before and since. It also really digs in to his personal life at time, getting very emotional. That Lee and his family appear and tell these tales mean it doesn’t feel intrusive.

All of this is illustrated with a mass of archive footage, photos, art and letters. It’s actually quite stunning. The research must have been enormous, but it really pays off, making the film richly detailed both in terms of the facts it imparts and the visuals it employs.

At just 80 minutes it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome; indeed I, and I’m sure many other fans, could’ve taken a whole lot more. The big question, though, is does it have that crossover appeal to ‘Not-We’s that (arguably) the best documentaries should have? Truthfully, I don’t know. But I imagine it would be difficult to watch without gaining an appreciation for how significant Lee is, and how genuinely brilliant he is too. Highly recommended.

5 out of 5

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story merited an honourable mention on my list of The Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2012, which can be read in full here.

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