When Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse arrives in theaters on Dec. 14 it will be the sixth major studio film this year to feature a cameo by Stan Lee but the first released since his death on Nov. 12 at age 95.
For the filmmakers, the timing of their release – a mere 32 days after the publishing legend’s death – has added bittersweet poignancy to the scene, which shows an animated version of Lee as a New York merchant who offers some wry words of wisdom to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), the film’s unproven young heir to Spider-Man’s powers and responsibilities.
Without giving away too much, the filmmakers discussed the scene, which presents Lee as a Big Apple merchant whose store is visited by Miles at a time when the youngster is contemplating his destiny and duty. The role has some similar traits to Professor Marvel, the flam-flam fortune teller in The Wizard of Oz – both may be fast-talkers chasing a fast buck but when they encounter a troubled youngster they can also share sage advice with a twinkle in the eye.
“It was important to us that his character was important to the plot,” said Bob Perischetti, another member of the directing trio. “And we achieved that, his character has a key moment and gives Miles a talisman.”
Rodney Rothman, the third director of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, said that preview audiences have been responding strongly to the sequence. “Watching it with an audience the other day and all the different emotions that they were giving off was just incredible.”
Lee has appeared in more than three dozen films over the past two decades, including all five of Sony’s live-action Spider-Man films. The roles are always small but the the films have been huge — especially lately.
Of the 10 highest-grossing films this year, Lee was an actor in four of them (Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Venom and Ant-Man and The Wasp). Lee added a fifth screen credit when he accepted a longtime rival’s invitation to portray himself in animated form (for the DC Comics adaptation Teen Titans! Go To the The Movies!).
Two other hits this year also paid homage to Lee by including him in image but without his active participation or performance. Lee was depicted in a graffiti mural shown in Deadpool 2 while the just-released Ralph Breaks the Internet shows an animated version of a genial-looking Lee hanging out with Iron Man.
The last cameo that Lee filmed was the scene he shot for Sony’s Venom but he has scenes filmed for projects that have yet to be released. Marvel Studios, for instance, has cameos in the can that will include Lee in two releases due next year, Captain Marvel and the fourth Avengers film.
Lee died on Nov. 12 in Los Angeles and a small private funeral was conducted four days later. Lee’s published work in Marvel Comics began in 1941 and over the decades he created hundreds of characters. But, he often said, none were closer to his heart that Spider-Man, the wisecracking New York boy-hero that Lee modeled partly on his own persona as a teen.
Lee co-created Spider-Man in 1962 with artist Steve Ditko, who died in New York in June at age 90. Together the tandem also created Doctor Strange, the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus in the 1960s but they could hardly have been more different in temperament.
As a relentless presence at conventions, Lee posed for thousands of fan snapshots every year for decades. The intensely reclusive Ditko, meanwhile, rarely tread past his doorstep and was so rarely photographed that few of even his biggest fans would be able to describe him.
Needless to say, Ditko doesn’t have any cameo credits. But, Ramsey said, Ditko is represented via the hand-drawn aesthetic of the CG animation for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.The film captures the visual language of comic books in an unprecedented way and much of Ditko’s classic work informs it throughout.
“Steve Ditko has got a lot of presence in our movie,” Ramsey said. “You just don’t seen him in it. His influence is in every scene but you don’t hear his voice.”