Director: Morgan Spurlock
Writers: Jeremy Chilnick & Morgan Spurlock
As long as I can remember I have been a collector of things. Pez dispensers, action figures, comic books, DVDs, and probably some other things I have forgotten about by now. With that said I can definitely identify and understand why the people in the new Morgan Spurlock documentary “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” do what they do.
San Diego Comic-Con is considered to be the Geek Mecca of modern times. For four days every year an estimated 125,000 people head to San Diego to buy and sell comic books, DVDs, action figures, meet celebrities and artists, and attend panels featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. What started with a few hundred people in the early 1970s has grown into one of the biggest marketing platforms for comic book publishers and movie studios alike.
Morgan Spurlock, who gained notoriety by eating nothing but McDonalds for a month in “Super Size Me”, this time tackles the topic of the San Diego Comic-Con and the people who go to it. Following a variety of different types of people with Superhero-esque code names such as “The Soldier”, “The Geek”, “The Designer”, and “The Lovers,” the documentary shows the characters each with a specific goal or dream in mind when they enter the convention doors. Some want to show their artwork in hopes of breaking into the comic book industry, others are dealers and some are there for the love of pop culture. Whatever it is they are there for the common thread that connects them all is their love for comic books, movies, videos, and whatever else is the latest and greatest in “nerd culture”.
Notably absent from the film is Spurlock himself. In his previous three documentaries he was front and center on camera and providing the narration, neither of which he does here. Also different is there doesn’t seem to be a hint of sarcasm or attempts at raising any questions about an issue. In “Super Size Me” it was about obesity, in “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden” it was about the middle east, and in “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” it was about product placement and advertising in movies and television. In those movies Spurlock would charm his way into meetings and point out the hypocrisy of what corporations were doing through humor. “Comic-Con Episode IV” doesn’t really have anything to really explain or explore other than here are some people who like movies and comic books and that is OK.
As someone who has been to many comic book conventions there really was nothing new to get out of this. I appreciate how sweetly it treats its subjects, because it would be very easy to make a movie mocking these types of people, but there just isn’t anything here that is especially new or compelling. Someone who already is familiar with this world will see and hear things they already know and outsiders will probably just have their opinion reinforced, that Comic-Con is where creepy grown men dress up as Storm Troopers and ogle at models paid to cruise the convention floor in a Slave Leia metal bikini and pose for photos. There is no attempt at trying to look at this from any kind of outsider’s perspective. One of the characters, “The Collector”, is going to the Con with the sole purpose of buying an exclusive 18-inch tall Galactus figure from Hasbro. When he is interviewed in his office, a room-wallpapered head to ceiling with mint in box Marvel action figures, he mentions that his wife just doesn’t understand what he is doing. Instead of talking to the wife, or anyone not in the know for that matter, it just continues to show him talking about how valuable some of his toys are.
I also found a lot of the movies main stories seemed focused on people trying to make money or get noticed at the convention. Two of the plot lines are artists showing their drawing portfolios to try and get jobs working for Marvel, one is a comic’s dealer worrying about making his sales quota, and there is a woman who makes costumes based on characters from the video game “Mass Effect” in hopes of getting a job in the Film/TV industry. For a movie subtitled “A Fan’s Hope” there didn’t seem to be a ton of fandom on display but a lot of people trying to get careers going.
It is clear that Spurlock and his cavalcade of celebrity cameos, from Con regulars like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon to Horror director Eli Roth and Olivia Wilde, are fans and I did enjoy how sincere the movie was. Instead of poking fun at these people it celebrates them and the joy of going to a place with people who share your interests that others may look down upon. The movie moves quickly, is light, and enjoyable but like Spurlock’s other documentaries refuses to really engage in anything beyond “isn’t this fun?!”. Fans will appreciate being represented in a movie but won’t see or hear anything new and outsiders still won’t get it.