Film Review – Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
When I heard that Morgan Spurlock was making a documentary about Comic-Con, I was excited. He is one of my favorite documentary filmmakers for his ability to pinpoint a topic and question it from all sides. For the making of the film, Spurlock had a crew of 150 people with backstage access, so I expected no stone to be left unturned—but when I finally watched Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, I was sadly underwhelmed. It felt like it was a shadow of his former work.
Eschewing Spurlock’s traditional style for a more hands-off approach, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope follows a handful of different people on their journeys to San Diego for Comic-Con, the world’s biggest comic convention. This is a bit of a misnomer at this point, since Comic-Con has become more of a media event, but it is still the epicenter of “geek culture.” The pedigree of the film is through the roof, as it also features Joss Whedon as a writer/producer. This isn’t his story, though, as people from all different points of the spectrum are featured, including cosplayers, artists, and collectors.
The idea is fun—as someone who has been to other comic conventions, I’ve always been curious about Comic-Con itself, and I have been an admirer of Morgan Spurlock for his ability to personalize issues. Usually he does it through a hands-on approach, by putting himself in the action (the Michael Moore school of documentary filmmaking), but this isn’t the first time he has taken a more passive route—he did it with his TV show 30 Days, as well. However, he goes a step further here, and doesn’t even narrate the movie. Another difference is that the show struck upon real cultural issues and made us think, whereas this movie really has no stakes. The challenges the subjects have are things like proposing to a girlfriend, winning a costume contest, and trying to get a job as a comic artist—all fine things that I hope they succeed at, but not particularly engaging. I would’ve like to see some analysis…a look at why people connect with this world, why it seems to be growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, and why people continue to go, year after year.
On the personal level of “it probably only bothers me,” I found the movie to feel a bit dated. It was filmed at Comic-Con in 2010, and a lot of the “upcoming” events that are shown have already passed. Seeing footage from panels for Thor or Captain America felt a bit like old news, since those films are already long-since released. This took away a bit from the timeless feel of the project, and I found it to be a little distracting.
I think the film succeeds as a love letter to Comic-Con. You really see the subjects’ passion for the convention and their slice of geek culture, and for those who’ve never experienced it, you get a perspective of the enormity of the event. This isn’t just some one-off thing…it is a place where relationships are forged, careers are made, and dreams come true. The film does a good job of displaying the scale of the whole event, and really puts into perspective how the stories in the film are just like the ones of the other 100,000 attendees. The film also has an amazing group of individuals being interviewed to speak on the subject: Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, Harry Knowles, Stan Lee…the list goes on and on. These are people who are revered within the geek community and have insider knowledge on that world. It is fun to hear from the people whose work connects with the con-goers—I just wish there were more of it.
As in most documentaries, some of the profiled subjects succeed and some of them fail, but even those who fail aren’t really down and out; it’s more like the Chicago Cubs: “better luck next year.” I think this film would’ve been fine as a one-hour TV special, but it feels a bit hollow as a feature. For me, it feels like Spurlock phoning it in a bit. As usual, he has done an excellent job of getting you to care for these individuals, but everyone ends up feeling a bit one-dimensional. I’m hoping he gets back on track for his upcoming documentary Mansome, which was recently selected as a Spolight selection at the Tribeca Film Festival. I respect Spurlock for trying new things and tackling engaging topics; unfortunately, you aren’t going to hit every one out of the park. This project is made for the fans and they will enjoy it, but it probably will be lost on everyone else.
The film is available in limited release staring April 5th and on VOD starting April 6th.
Final Grade: C+