When Stan Lee, the co-creator of countless beloved Marvel characters in print and enthusiastic brand ambassador for the company on screen, died last November at the age of 95, it felt like there was a rip in the space-time continuum of pop culture. With his trademark glasses and ever-present grin, Lee was the public impresario behind an artform that now dominates movies and television. In his decades-long tenure at Marvel, he played many roles -- writer, editor, producer, publisher, pitch-man -- but by the end he was perhaps most associated with his blink-and-you-miss-it cameo appearances in the blockbuster films based on Marvel properties.
Would his death mean the end of those appearances? As Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige revealed in interviews, Lee's bits were often filmed in bulk due to his old age and production demands, so the studio already had footage in the can for Captain Marvel and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. (It's less clear if they have even more cameos stockpiled in a vault somewhere -- or, perhaps morbidly, if they'll use CGI to insert him into movies in the future.) Since Captain Marvel is the first Marvel movie to be released since Lee passed away, it's worth taking a closer look at how directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's 1995-set origin story pays tribute to Lee. Unsurprisingly, it's as I Love the '90s as the movie's Blockbuster video gags.
Before the movie actually starts, it kicks off with a tribute to Lee via the Marvel Studios logo. In 2016, the company introduced a new (and very long!) version of its production title that honors the last decade of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where the old version only celebrated the comics, the new one also incorporates footage from the films. The version that accompanies Captain Marvel swaps out those clips in favor of stylized footage of Lee's many cameo appearances over the years. It's a tasteful, unobtrusive tip of the hat that even got a little cheer at the press screening I attended.
Lee's cameo occurs during one of the movie's first Earth-bound action set-pieces, a chase that finds Brie Larson's Captain Marvel pursuing an alien shape-shifter on an elevated train while Nick Fury (a magically de-aged, '90s era Samuel L. Jackson) follows in a car on the ground. Lee is one of the passengers on the train, but he's not simply another background extra here. No, he's reading from a script for Kevin Smith's stoner comedy Mallrats and working on his line "Trust me, true believer," which he delivers in one of the movie's most memorable scenes.