September 12, 2011


Comic-Con: Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is the latest documentary from Super Size Me’s Morgan Spurlock and probably the best thing he’s done since pounding down Big Macs. Though the film capitalizes on another cultural obsession, it is completely devoid of the director’s trademark Michael Moore-light stunt documentary approach. Spurlock doesn’t even appear onscreen, instead staying entirely behind the camera to simply document his subject (what a novel approach for a documentary!). The film centers on Comic-Con and in a broader sense is about the current rise of nerd culture that is surprisingly low on geek freak humor. Instead, the film is a rather sweet and loving portrait of the pop culture-obsessed attendees and the annual Mecca of their anti-social pursuits. The convention itself comes off as an accepting home to anyone who feels the need sweat through a Wookie costume for a weekend while eating overpriced fast food and standing in line to get an autograph from their favorite B-movie actor. The documentary probably won’t win over anyone who despises this culture going in, but it should at least help explain why it exists. Hit the jump for more.

comic-con-a-fans-hope-image-1While Morgan Spurlock is an amicable presence in his movies, it’s nice that he decided not to be the star this time. It’s not really a subject suited to his brand of stunt-documentaries anyways. Instead the focus is on a small collection of fans. There are two aspiring artists who visit the convention hoping to meet publishers and start a career in comics, a geek couple who met at the con a year earlier, a group of amateur costume makers looking to win the annual Masquerade, and a stressed comic book dealer. In addition to the fans, there are also funny interviews with geek friendly celebrities like Kevin Smith, Josh Whedon, Harry Knowles, Frank Miller, Guillermo Del Toro, and of course the great Stan Lee.

It’s an amusing look at the geek world, but admittedly a fairly slight documentary. Spurlock doesn’t really have much to say about his subject other than the fact that it exists, the people are nice, the world is welcoming, and it’s getting bigger. The closest thing to a comment that the director fits into the movie comes from the comic book dealer, who complains that the convention is no longer primarily dedicated to comics, severely hurting his sales. He brings his most prized possession (a copy of Red Raven #1 worth $500,000) to sell off to in an attempt to alleviate his debts. However even he ends up pulling in one of his biggest hulls ever as a vender. So there’s no need to worry about any drama arising there.

comic-con-episode-iv-a-fans-hope-posterThe film is pretty funny and thankfully not in a calculated way. The laughs arise out of awkward situations from the fans and revealing anecdotes from the celebrities. There’s no attempt to create any sort of dialogue or debate about the rise of geek culture or Comic-Con. We’re just shown that it exists and I’m not sure that’s really a necessity at this point given that the convention is a massive media event these days and if anything overexposed. Still, someone had to make a Comic-Con doc and this one fits the bill. At least Spurlock doesn’t demonize or mock the subjects as he so easily could have done. This is clearly a ridiculous world, but also a very warm and accepting one.

Spurlock’s doc is almost disarmingly sweet, which is entirely appropriate. There really isn’t much tension or drama in the geek world. Sure, it can be a little sad and fandom can get so extreme that it becomes a detriment to other areas of life, but that’s the image of geeks that everyone already knows. The traditional obsessive, social outcast nerd image probably derives from undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome anyways (think of the nerd from American Splender. There’s much more going on with that guy than just obsession). Geek culture isn’t that far removed from mainstream culture these days, so it makes sense that a loving documentary exists. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is a charming and entertaining film that’s easy to get caught up in while it’s happening even if it disappears from memory fairly quickly. That’s not far off of what it’s like to attend a comic book convention, so in a way it’s an appropriate. A fun documentary from Morgan Spurlock, but (perhaps even by design) nothing earth shattering. If you have any desire to see the movie, you’ll get exactly what you expect. So I suppose points should at least be awarded for truthful advertising. That’s something.

Grade; C+

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