Stan Lee loved a good cameo. The legendary comics icon, who died yesterday at 95, got to sneak into so many movies based on heroes he’d helped bring to life over the past two decades—and even into some based on ones he didn’t.
But maybe the one that best encapsulates Stan Lee as a creative is one of his most recent.
Lee’s movie cameos are, by and large, brief moments of levity. From “Tony Stank” in Captain America: Civil War to his senior flirting in Spider-Man: Homecoming, they exist to be a tiny knowing nod as you go “oh look, Stan Lee!” to yourself. Rarely are they actually rooted in the emotional context of the wider film story — perhaps only his appearance in Spider-Man 3 came close to that idea, in a moment poignantly shared across the internet yesterday as the news of his passing broke:
The recent PS4 game Marvel’s Spider-Man also features a Lee cameo (sure, it’s a game and not a movie, but it’d almost feel wrong without one) that is likewise ephemeral and fleeting. But taking a look back at the wider scene in the game it’s placed in, it is perhaps the perfect Stan Lee cameo — and in light of his passing, it becomes one of the most perfect tributes to Lee’s legacy as a creator who played a part in forging some of pop culture’s most marvellous icons.
Spider-Man is set in an entirely new interpretation of the Spider-Verse from Marvel lore, telling its own story with its own versions of Peter Parker, his amazing friends, and his superior foes. It offers some twists on what people know of Spider-Man to present a fresh interpretation…like, for example, the fact that Peter and Mary Jane Watson are not romantically intertwined, having broken up six months before the events of the game (never mind that, up until three months ago, Peter and MJ had not been together for over a decade in the comics).
Early on in Spider-Man, the two bump into each other for what is meant to be the first time in a significant while—Peter, on the job as Spider-Man, investigating reports of shady dealings at an art gallery that MJ herself is already looking into as part of her job as a reporter for the Daily Bugle. After putting aside their surprise to see each other in order to get out of an impromptu gang attack on the gallery, Peter and MJ set up a more formal reunion over dinner at one of their favourite former hangouts: Mick’s, a diner-turned-Italian restaurant.
It is, as you’d expect of a reunion between any set of young twenty-something former partners, a heady mix of endearing and awkward to witness. As Peter earnestly goofs his way through updates on his life as a scientist and MJ sniffs out her next big story to cover, you get to see the spark that brought these two people together in the first place slowly begin to rekindle, even as we’re also reminded of why they separated.
And in true Spider-Man style, just as things seem to be getting potentially intimate between the two, duty calls: Police sirens from speeding cop cars come wailing by in the background. Peter’s normal life and his spider-life once again come crashing together.
Peter dashes off to do his Spider-thing by MJ’s leave, and she laugh-sighs to herself as she watches him go — leaving a tip for the cook for their unclaimed meal, as the camera pans up and reveals that the cook, of course (who else could it be?), is none other than Stan Lee. Lee smiles back at MJ, before excitedly adding “Love seeing you two together! You always were my favourites”, and the scene ends.