You may be wondering why Stan Lee qualifies as a Cinema Saint. Though he’s not exactly involved in any aspect of the films’ production, a Marvel movie just doesn’t feel complete without a cameo from Stan the Man. He’s managed to appear in most of the modern Marvel movies, including the animated Big Hero 6. The only exceptions are the Ghost Rider films, X2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past (do you even realize what you’ve done, Singer?). I felt obliged to share my appreciation for Mr. Lee when a notorious group of “critics” counted his cameos among the negative aspects of Marvel’s movies. Honestly, I don’t see how it’s possible to associate Stan Lee with anything negative. And since we at AE are all about finding the positivity in all aspects of film when we can, I thought it was time to share my love for the highly entertaining cameos that Lee has been a part of for what’s going on fifteen years.
If you’ve read or listened to any interview with Stan Lee, then you know that his enthusiasm is absolutely infectious and he loves being involved in Marvel’s films even if it’s only in a small capacity. And why shouldn’t he love it? I’d imagine that for someone who’s been involved in comics almost since the birth of the industry, it has to be astounding to see your imagination brought to life on $200 million dollar budgets. While there have certainly been better writers than Lee over Marvel’s 75 year history, no one has matched his ability to create compelling concept after concept with nary a dip in quality. While some comic fans have complained over the years that Lee is given too much credit for properties he only co-created, this isn’t the same kind of situation as Bob Kane taking credit for Batman (most of the concept and characters came from artist Bill Finger). Lee has always been willing to give credit where it’s due, but him outliving most of his collaborators means that he’s going to take up most of the spotlight when it comes to recognizing Marvel’s history in the present day. Lee is nothing if not a salesman, and any salesman worth the clothes on his back knows that it’s not only about selling the product but himself as well. The day to day business of Marvel Comics and its subsiding studios may operate without Lee, but his very public role has insured that the brand is still very much synonymous with his efforts. Not only does Stan Lee have every right to be featured in film after film, it’s also just good business.
You’d be hard pressed in this day and age to go into a Marvel movie and find a teenager or adult who doesn’t recognize who Stan Lee is. Whether he’s offering advice to Peter Parker, playing a mailman, doing his best Hugh Hefner impression, or just some “class-A pre-vert,” he’s impossible to miss. Despite being unmistakable, there’s always someone in the theater who will whisper loudly to their friend “that’s Stan Lee.” It’s a statement that’s irritatingly obvious, increasingly so since we’re 15 years into these cameos, but at the same it’s great to see people get so excited about him popping up. How many other studios can get people en masse to eagerly anticipate a 10-second appearance from a 92-year-old man? None.
But despite the general appreciation for Lee, there are still detractors who complain that the cameos are distracting and take them out of the movie. I don’t really know what to say to people like that, other than the fact if Stan Lee’s appearance lowers the film in your estimation, then you’ve got bigger issues with the film than just a cameo. But that particular brand of negativity is in the minority, and I think most would agree there’s something comforting about seeing that mustache and hearing his always recognizable voice.
While I’m fairly certain Stan Lee is immortal, if he’s not (and that’s a strong if) I hope Marvel has enough pre-recorded footage or that digital enhancement technology advances far enough to cement Lee’s onscreen immortality forever. Because while there are a lot of people who made Marvel the brand it is today, he’s the one who helped make Marvel Comics what it is today: a vast and strange multiverse filled with strange alien races, dark alleyways, and heroes and villains who are just as human as us. So come on, let’s just canonize the man already!
Featured Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures