There’s nothing monumental or enlightening about the film, but it does offer an enjoyable time.
Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary focuses on a small slice of Americana, rather than commenting on the entire apple pie (see: Super-Size Me, Greatest Movie Ever Sold). It also keeps the prolific documentarian behind the camera, rather than in front of it. Whether you’re a fan or not of Spurlock’s previous documentary features, you’ll want to know going in that you’re going to get something slightly different with Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope – in every sense of the term.
Many people today (in America and well beyond) know about the San Diego Comic-Con. Every July, geeks, nerds, movie studios, media outlets and pop-culture enthusiasts of all types descend upon the San Diego Convention Center for 4 days of unabashed geekdom, and, in recent years, media marketing and promotion. But there are those for whom Comic-Con represents hope – a bridge between their present circumstances and their dreams of a career, fame – even love. By following a “cast of characters” who all attended the 2010 Comic-Con with big dreams in tow, Spurlock tries to capture the spirit of this revered geek mecca through the stories of those present – and of course, a few celebrity guests.
Comic-Con Episode IV is a hard one to judge. After all, I was at Comic-Con 2010 and saw, first-hand, some of the events and/or people featured in the film (talking to you, potbellied Green Lantern guy). I’ve also been attending the ‘Con (as we vets like to call it) for years, and have long since formulated my own impressions, opinions, and memories about the convention itself, and the people who frequent it. I say that to say: I’m not without my bias.
That said, for me the documentary is hardly revealing or surprising – more re-affirming and amusing in the same fashion as re-telling old stories about a crazy trip you once took. However, for those who know little to nothing about this niche of Americana life – beyond what major media outlets like to report around the time of the convention – this documentary will expose you to things you may have never truly grasped about Comic-Con. The over-arching question I came away with, is: will that insight give you new appreciation for the people who love and celebrate this culture and lifestyle – or simply provide another opportunity to laugh at them?
Perhaps this is why Spurlock left himself out of the film this time around. By simply presenting the “characters” – which include bartender/artist Skip Harvey, costume designer Holly Conrad, military family man/artist Eric Henson, Mile High Comics owner Chuck Rozanski, and lovebirds Se Young Kang and James Darling – simply as they are, without prompting, the filmmaker avoids any commentary on who these people are, or the validity of their dreams. We are simply left to take these unique human beings as they are, and some people will inevitably take them as being…well, strange.
Spurlock does succeed in telling a complete story arc for each of his “characters,” tracing their journeys through the 4-day act that is Comic-Con. There are moments of genuine sentiment – both happy and sad – as some dreams are fulfilled, and others are not. But with a few debatable exceptions, the film does succeed in getting you to care about the characters it presents.
The celebrity cameos include names that probably ring louder in the halls of the ‘Con than in the mainstream arena. Avengers director Joss Whedon provides passionate and witty commentary on geek culture; blogger godfather Harry Knowles of Ain’t it Cool News reminisces on the convention like a proud uncle; actor/comedian Seth Rogen talks about the inexplicable joy of being a geek; while comic book icons like writer Grant Morrison (Batman), DC animation guru Paul Dini (Batman the Animated Series) and Marvel co-creator Stan “The Man” Lee all wax philosophic about why comic books are important, and/or how the convention has been transformed by Hollywood over the years. There are other famous faces that also show up, to share impressions, opinions and stories.
Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) certainly makes his presence felt – both as a no-holds-barred narrator and the MC for what may be one of the strangest marriage proposals ever filmed. Smith at once manages to deliver a compassionate defense of geek culture and an all-too-self-aware mockery of it; he also curses so frequently that after awhile he had to be bleeped, rather than exceed the MPAA’s allotted limit for a PG-13 rating. But hey: you ask for Kevin Smith, you get Kevin Smith.
In the end, Comic-Con Episode IV is best suited to those curious about the convention and/or culture – or those who already embrace it and just want to relive the experience before the next ‘Con inevitably comes. There’s nothing monumental or enlightening about the film, but it does offer an enjoyable time.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is now playing in limited release and is available on Video On Demand through select cable and online streaming providers.
Check out our Screen Rant Interview with Director Morgan Spurlock and cast member Holly Conrad, below: