Stan Lee Musings

Posted: 08/29/2016 in Uncategorized

Stan Lee: Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans should never quit Marvel

Stan Lee arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of

Stan Lee arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “Captain America: Civil War” at the Dolby Theatre on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

STEVE TILLEY, POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Aug 24, 2016

, Last Updated: 6:11 PM ET

Stan Lee seems as invincible as the Marvel superheroes he’s been instrumental in creating.

But at 93 years old, an age when most folks have been retired for decades (if they’re lucky enough to still be kicking around at all), the man who helped give birth to Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers is letting himself slow down a bit.

So brace yourselves, true believers: this year’s Fan Expo Canada, running Sept. 1 to 4 in Toronto, will likely be Stan Lee’s last Canadian convention appearance.

“I’m really trying to take it easier,” a chipper Lee told Postmedia Network in an interview this week. “I want to go to Toronto, and then after that I have one in New York. And I do think those will be the last, except for some that are closer to home.”

But just as thousands of Canadian fans will be seeking autographs and photos with Lee during his appearance at Fan Expo Canada, Lee is hoping for a particular signature to add to his own collection: that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau will appear on a variant cover of Civil War II: Choosing Sides #5, in stores next week, which shows the grinning, tank top-clad PM sitting in the corner of a boxing ring, surrounded by members of the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight.

“I would love to meet the prime minister and get my copy personally signed,” said Lee, who himself will be featured on a Fan Expo-exclusive variant cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #17 – with the CN Tower in the background, no less – on sale at the convention.

“That would be one of the highlights of my trip,” Lee said. (Memo to the Prime Minister’s office: make it happen, eh? Excelsior!)

Along with artist and Marvel luminary Jack Kirby, Lee’s superhero journey began when he co-created the Fantastic Four in 1961, a response to rival DC Comics’ popular Justice League series. The quartet of heroes were different from anything comic books had seen before: they were flawed, they were frightened, they fought amongst themselves. Despite the incredible powers bestowed on them by a blast of cosmic radiation, they were remarkably human.

That humanity came to define the Marvel credo, and has carried all the way through to the blockbuster Marvel Studios films of the last decade and a half, including this year’s Captain America: Civil War. Next up is November’s Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme, followed next year by new standalone instalments in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor franchises. Black Panther – a hero who Lee said has been “too long” in making his big screen solo debut – arrives in July of 2018.

But after the next two Avengers films in 2018 and 2019, currently entering production under the guidance of Civil War directors Joe and Anthony Russo, what then? What becomes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when this epic movie saga reaches a natural endpoint with the fourth Avengers film?

“I can’t tell you where it will go after that, because I won’t be making that decision,” said Lee, who currently serves as Chairman Emeritus of Marvel but isn’t directly involved in the company’s creative processes.

“But I can certainly tell you that it will have places to go. Because as long as human beings have imaginations, they’ll never run out of story ideas for these characters.”

And while Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr. might choose to hang up his crimson and gold armour after the next Avengers movies run their course, Lee really hopes both Downey and Captain America actor Chris Evans keep playing the parts until, well, the end of time.

“I think those two men were born to play their roles. As long as they will continue to play them, I think we’ll be very lucky,” Lee said. “In fact all the people – (Chris Hemsworth’s) Thor, every one of them – they are so perfectly cast and I hope we stay with them forever.”

There’s been some controversy over the years as to how many of these iconic superheroes Lee actually created. Kirby, who died in 1994, claimed that the many of the heroes’ stories came from his own imagination. Lee has respectfully refuted Kirby’s assertions.

Ever the unflappable optimist, Lee isn’t one to court controversy or take swipes at his competition. When asked how DC Comics and Warner Bros. might get their movie properties back on track after the critical beatings laid on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, he was characteristically diplomatic.

“Just look at the Marvel films,” Lee said with a chuckle. “That’s the best advice I could give them.”

He also refuses to pick a favourite among his cinematic superhero children, saying he’s excited for all of the upcoming films. “I can’t wait to see Black Panther, I can’t wait to see Doctor Strange, I can’t wait to see the new Spider-Man – I could name every one of them.”

But as for comic books, the medium he helped define, it’s ironic – and maybe a little tragic – that Lee can no longer enjoy them.

“I don’t read as much as I did, because my eyesight isn’t as good as it was,” Lee said. “So mostly I just talk to people about the books and about the movies, see what they think, try to find out as much as I can, and try to stay ‘au courant’ as much as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t see or even hear as well I did, so it makes it a little tough for me.”

But even though he might not be doing the convention circuit as rigorously as he has in the past, he’s not quitting yet. No sir.

“I love what I do. In fact, I don’t consider it work, I consider it play,” Lee said.

“When you’re involved in stories and you’re working with artists and writers and actors and directors, and your whole objective is to entertain the public – that isn’t working. That’s the greatest play there could be.”

If you were to tally the box office earnings for the movies that Marvel maestro Stan Lee has appeared in, the results would be in the billions of dollars. Literally, billions.

By our reckoning, Lee has made a staggering 27 cameo appearances in Marvel superhero movies and TV shows, from 2000’s X-Men (as a startled hot dog vendor) to this year’s Captain America: Civil War (as a FedEx driver dropping a package off for “Tony Stank.”)

“To me, every cameo is memorable, because each cameo is the most important part of every movie, we all know that,” a jovial Lee joked in an interview this week, ahead of his appearance next month at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto.

One fascinating fan theory suggests that Stan Lee’s cameo characters are different human forms assumed by Uatu, also known as the Watcher – an all-seeing, all-knowing, otherworldly being keeping tabs on the mighty Marvel heroes.

“Oh, dammit, the secret’s out,” said Lee with a guffaw. (Sadly, we’re quite certain he’s joking. Although if Stan Lee were the Watcher, it would mean every one of the Marvel movies exist in the same shared universe. Now that’s an exciting notion.)

Lee won’t pin down his favourite cameo – he’s been a strip club emcee in Deadpool, a retired general in Captain America: The First Avenger, a suave womanizer in Iron Man and even Willie Lumpkin, the Fantastic Four’s ear-wiggling mailman.

Earlier this year, Lee visited the Pinewood Atlanta Studios set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to film his cameo for that movie, which hits theatres next April. But being the master of efficiency that he is – and, let’s face it, the fact that he’s 93 years old – Lee actually filmed three Marvel movie cameos in a row.

“The day that I did Guardians, I did two others – (this November’s) Doctor Strange and (next year’s) Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Lee said.

Who does he play? He won’t say. But he promises they’ll be memorable moments.

“These three that I did are very special,” Lee said. “When you go to the movies, you’ll see why I say that.”

For further info on Fan Expo, visit fanexpocanada.com.

STilley@postmedia.com

@stevetilley

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