Over the last few decades, Stan Lee has taken plenty of credit as the genius behind Marvel Comics, who created dozens of memorable characters that now fill the summer’s biggest movies, and built the company into a cultural force through his promotional antics. Naturally, this ignores some of the truth: Lee did have a lot to do with Marvel’s success, but he also took credit for plenty of work that his artistic collaborators did in fleshing out (and outright creating) some of those characters. If history is written by the winners, then Lee spikes a metaphorical touchdown every time he pops up for ten seconds in a Spider-Man movie. But he is a fascinating figure, as a born showman who served in World War II as a playwright, abandoned dreams of writing the Great American Novel, and didn’t make a mark in the comic industry until he was approaching middle age. If anyone wanted to make a movie about a complicated but vital cultural figure of the 20th century, Lee would be a great choice.
… which makes it strange that Twentieth Century Fox is making a film about Lee that will elide some of those messier details in favor of a showy narrative about how rad he was. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox has acquired Lee’s life rights in order to make what they’re calling “a period action adventure movie.” Producers behind Twilight and the upcoming Power Rangers movie envision Lee as the hero of a James Bond-type film—writer by day, person of intrigue by night. It’s all subject to change, as THR notes: “No writer has been hired to flesh out the story so the project’s existing details could morph.”
Still… what? Setting aside the fact that no writer, no matter how vivacious, should be seen as a James Bond analogue, it’s a weird choice to reduce a genuinely interesting life to cartoonish caricature. Given Fox’s ownership of the film rights of Lee-attributed creations like the X-Men and Fantastic Four, it feels like a power play with ulterior motives. Maybe this is just a bargaining chip in the rumored negotiations of a Fox/Marvel Studios film crossover; maybe an executive just found Lee really charming. But it seems odd, if not downright objectionable, to further mythologize a self-styled fabulist who’s spent most of his life spinning tall tales about himself.