One of the biggest (though ultimately meaningless) reveals in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was the confirmation that Stan Lee has actually been playing the same character in every one of his Marvel cameos. A quick flyby found Lee, in a spacesuit, telling a group of Watchers about the time he was a FedEx delivery guy in Captain America: Civil War. Presumably, this means Lee is either a member of Marvel’s omnipresent, observant alien race, or he’s working with them. Either way, he’s been the same guy in every film.
Except, wait — wasn’t he Larry King that one time?
In both Iron Man and Iron Man 2, the legendary comic creator isn’t playing just any old random bystander, but a stand-in for another ceremony. In the first movie, Tony Stark spies Lee on a red carpet and says hello to the Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner. In Iron Man 2, a similar thing happens, only this time Tony identifies a suspenders-wearing Lee as Larry King.
If Lee was actually meant to be playing Hefner and King, that could mean any number of things. The easiest solution? He’s not actually playing the real people. Many Marvel fans believe that Tony either mistook Lee, a rando, for a real-deal celeb or knew that he wasn’t really Hefner or King and was just making a joke based on their appearance. In this case, there would be no problems with Lee being the same Watcher character.
However, some fans didn’t read these scenes this way, and instead believe that Lee really was playing two actual celebrities. If that’s the case (though personally, I am on team “Tony Made a Mistake”), there are two other ways we can close this Guardians-induced continuity error. Technically, we only know for a fact that the Lee from Vol. 2 was also the FedEx Lee from Civil War. That means that the other Lee cameos don’t necessarily have to be the same Lee. Hefner and King could just be doing their own thing and have no part of the weird Watcher conspiracy.
Or, whatever, maybe Hugh Hefner and Larry King have been Watchers this whole time. It’s the Marvel Universe; lots of people have secret identities. Why can’t a porn publishing magnate and a broadcasting legend also be big-headed space people?
So, Stan Lee’s past lives aren’t necessarily a continuity error, since there are lots of ways to explain how “Hefner” and “King” could pop up in the MCU. However, director James Gunn confirmed that there is absolutely a continuity error because of the latest cameo, but the fault lies with Vol. 2, not with the past movies. As Gunn admitted in a Facebook Live Q&A session on Monday, he made a mistake when he had Lee tell the Watchers about his time as a FedEx delivery guy — because that hadn’t happened yet. That Civil War cameo took place in 2016, but because Vol. 2 takes place only a few months after the first film, Lee’s referencing the future.
“I screwed up; I wasn’t thinking, But I’m going to say that probably Stan Lee used the guise of a FedEx guy more than one time,” Gunn said.
Which is probably the right way to go about it. These cameos are just for fun, after all. It’s probably best not to overthink it, as this article did.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is currently in theaters.
This post has been updated to reflect James Gunn’s Facebook Q&A comments.