This review was originally published on April 6, 2012…
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is Morgan Spurlock’s love letter to the San Diego Comic-Con, and the people who attend. Focusing on the individual tales of some aspiring comic book artists, a costume designer and her crew preparing for the annual Masquerade Ball, a geek couple about to take their relationship to the next level and the proprietor of Mile High Comics, one of the few enduring companies to still sell comic books at the event named after the medium, the film manages to induce all the best parts of the SDCC experience while glossing over, or ignoring, all the other elements that make it such a daunting adventure.
One of the first things you could notice, if you’re familiar with Morgan Spurlock’s documentaries, is that he isn’t center stage in this one. I think I heard his voice at one point in the audio mix, but this isn’t a film whereupon Spurlock experiences Comic-Con and brings you along like a history lesson. Instead, he picked his subjects carefully, ones that cover a wide range of Comic-Con attendees with different agendas, and intercut their personal experiences with celebrity geek luminaries, like Joss Whedon, Stan Lee and Kevin Smith, as they explain their experiences and history with SDCC.
And it works, for the most part. There is definitely a feeling of preaching to the converted here; while I got more insight into the Masquerade Ball, for example, if I wasn’t already a long-time comic book nerd and someone with his own history of Comic-Con attendance, I’d probably zone out a bit here and there (which is what tended to happen for my wife as she watched; for the most part she got into it, but when people began dropping comic book artists’ names or talking about this or that thing super-geek, she was out of it). Not that there aren’t universal feelings and moments one can grab on to as the film unfolds, but, I mean, just look at the title… you know who this was made for, and who would read a name like that and go, “OH! I must see it!”
In some ways, it also felt like I was at a funeral with friends for majestic SDCCs of the past, and we were all having rose-colored memories while we tried to ignore the corpse in the room, stickered with corporate logos and draped in film studio marketing material. Which is to say, the film focuses on the positive the majority of the time, and while it doesn’t ignore the corporate co-opted reality of the current San Diego Comic-Con experience entirely, it also doesn’t get too dirty with the discussion about anything.
For example, the year this was filmed was the same year we had our 25th Anniversary Panel at the Con, and someone got stabbed in Hall H; considering a significant piece of the film occurred in Hall H after that unique, violent moment happened, I was waiting to see how the film approached the situation. When the answer was, “not at all,” I was surprised. It was so outside the norm for the Con that I was hoping someone had gotten some idea of what really happened there (did Spurlock capture SDCCs Altamont moment!?!). But now we’re so inside and SDCC year-specific that even more folks have no doubt tuned out so… different tale to be told, simply, and not the one for this film.
In the end, this is a film that celebrates the San Diego Comic-Con, and the various personalities and people that attend and embrace it. This isn’t some probing documentary full of gossip, insight and intrigue; it’s a love letter to a culture and one of the houses of worship at the center.