Plotholes and fridge logic aside, Marvel’s got their cinematic universe down pat. They know what they’re doing, and regularly produce entertaining, if not always perfect, live action adaptations of their comics.
There is one issue, however–Stan Lee’s ubiquitous cameos.
A lot of people love them. Sure, they’re fun. If they were just background cameos, I might even agree. I maintain that his best cameo was in Spider-Man where he saves another bystander from falling rubble. He was there, we saw his face, and he did something cool. Not a problem.
Most of his cameos aren’t like that, though. Most Stan Lee cameos are more akin to Lee grabbing us by the ears as he shouts “LOOK AT ME! HEY! LISTEN! LOOK IT’S THE GUY WHO TOOK ALL THE CREDIT FOR THE CHARACTER YOU’RE HERE TO SEE!” as he pulls some lame gag, like asking if he pulled Mjolnir out of the ground when the tow chain snapped in Thor or mugging for the camera as he ironically denounces superheroes at the end of Avengers.
When he’s in the background, it’s fine, and it’s cute. When he’s cast as an actual bit character, like Willie Lumpkin in Fantastic Four, it’s fine. When he’s purely there to whip his modest fame out and smear it all over the screen is when I have a problem. It breaks immersion, and the movie has to work to put you back into the story it’s been trying to pull you into for at least half an hour.
Stan Lee is slated to next appear in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The promo (embedded below) doesn’t indicate what role he’ll play–whether side gag or bit character. But with as divided as the fanbase has been over S.H.I.E.L.D., I think it’s a poor choice to do this (I also think it’s wrong to say he’s a “very special Marvel guest star,” more like a “contractually obligated cameo”). The first half of S.H.I.E.L.D’s first season was met with a lackluster reception as it tried to find its feet. Now it’s coming back after a winter hiatus showing that it’s getting there, and getting better, and handing out some small snippets of answers, and they go and put in the aforementioned immersion breaking cameo.
Especially when there have been reports of upcoming cameos by Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Captain America, to put Stan Lee in there for a random (S.H.I.E.L.D. agent?) cameo before the episodes with characters people actually want to see is basically telling viewers “hold on, we don’t have this figured out yet.” Any other fumbling sci fi series would likely have been cancelled by now. It’s only the notoriety of Marvel’s Cinematic universe and Joss Whedon being Marvel’s golden child that has kept Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. around to get to this point.
The cameo episode is set to air Feb. 4.