Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Expiration Watch: Stan and George

Given all the breathless headlines these days about superhero franchises and upcoming Star Wars sequels, it's ironic that Netflix is letting go of a couple of very appealing documentaries focused on two of the founding fathers of modern geekdom: Stan Lee and George Lucas.

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story (2010) 

It's impossible to imagine what pop culture—or today's Hollywood—would be like without Stan Lee. As the co-creator of Marvel Comics' most recognizable superheroes, from the Fantastic Four to the Hulk to Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, Daredevil, and even Ant-Man, Lee helped shape the path comic books—and now movies—have taken for over 50 years. And he's still going strong, as this thorough and (justifiably) worshipful documentary shows. At 92, the man (or, in this case, "The Man") continues to work rooms, comic conventions, the Internet, and movie studios as the most tireless, charming, and durable advocate of his art imaginable. In his mid-80s at the time of filming, Lee is irrepressibly fit and spry and still very much in love with life (along with his adoring wife of 60-plus years). He comes off as not only a wonderful spokesman for the comics industry, but as a peerless example of the human spirit. You can't help but admire his humor, his energy, and his ability to keep up with the times. And at film's end, you'll feel grateful—and mildly amazed—that he's managed to sustain this level of creativity (and salesmanship) for so long, while quietly dreading the grayer world we'll be left with when he's no longer a part of it. (Update: the doc is gone, but Stan Lee continues to impress in this latest short video, on the art of...cameo acting!]

The People vs. George Lucas (2010)

The same might be said of George Lucas, although as this documentary gamely demonstrates, any praise will be mixed with varying degrees of acrimony, heartbreak, and regret. Or at least it will by those of us who grew up on Lucas' original Star Wars trilogy (not to mention THX-1138, American Graffiti and Raiders of the Lost Ark) only to have our fanboy dreams stomped on and our intelligence insulted by the digital abominations that were his Star Wars special editions and prequels. That's the premise anyway of this entertaining love-hate enterprise that both worships Lucas for the cinematic wonders he's bestowed upon us and takes him to task for (allegedly) defiling that very legacy with such ill-advised afterthoughts as midichlorians, Jar-Jar Binks, and Greedo shooting first. Fans will know what I'm talking about, but even the uninitiated (do such creatures exist?) will find great amusement in hearing an international cast of rabid Star Wars diehards explain exactly what broke their hearts the most.

Whether or not Lucas in fact turned to the dark side and became the movie-making equivalent of Darth Vader remains up for debate (for some), but now that he's handed over the creative reins to a younger generation of filmmakers, we'll soon have a new measuring stick as to what constitutes a good—or crappy—Star Wars movie. Considering how tough it will be to make something quite as bad as the prequels, I'm confident that whatever J.J. Abrams (for all his faults) delivers later this year will be at least as good as Return of the Jedi—which means it will be the third-best Star Wars movie ever made. At this late stage in the game, that's as close as we may get to a new hope.


jaydro said...

I have little hope. Abrams already made the worst Star Trek movie ever, which is saying a lot, despite his claim to being a bigger Star Wars fan than Star Trek fan.

David Speranza said...

I agree that INTO DARKNESS was tough to swallow, but I remain optimistic. If there was ever a time for Abrams to raise his game, this is it. And, again, I can't imagine his film will be worse than PHANTOM MENACE and its sequels--admittedly a low bar, but that's where ol' George left it. ;-)