Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

When it first got its start, Comic-Con was a little annual subcultural curio down in San Diego, and certainly an after-thought for Hollywood. Now it's a high-stakes proving ground for almost every genre film and any other non-drama tentpole release with even the most tangential connection to superheroes, sci-fi or fantasy, a media feeding frenzy where the buzz on debuted trailers and photos can feed a pro forma narrative and help lift or doom a movie's commercial fortunes. Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock turns his lens on this crazed fanboy convention in Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, a movie whose breezy title indicates its soft, chewy, geek-friendly center.

From his debut, Super Size Me, up on through his latest film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock has exhibited an uncanny knack for both tapping into the zeitgeist and self-promotion. He takes a backseat here, however, funneling his movie chiefly through the experiential lens of five different subjects — aspiring illustrators Eric and Skip; ambitious DIY costume designer Holly; comic book store owner Chuck, hoping for big sales to pay down some debts; and James, an amiable kid looking to pop a marriage proposal to his girlfriend on the anniversary of their meeting at the previous year's event. These folks are interesting on different levels, but each pretty engaging in their own way.

Spurlock rounds out his movie with sidebar confessionals and other interviews with fans and some other very familiar faces. Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon talks convincingly about finding "his tribe" at Comic-Con (other famous interviewees include Seth Rogen, Matt Groening, Eli Roth, Frank Miller and of course Stan Lee, also an executive producer on the project). In its able chronicling of the event — and the sweaty exhaustion it brings about — Comic-Con is a solid little treat, the cinematic equivalent of a rock tour T-shirt.

Where the film really misses the opportunity to blossom into something special is in Spurlock's refusal to dig down into the enmity bubbling just underneath the event's surface, the tension and conflict between old-guard attendees like Chuck and the many thousands of annual attendees who have less of a connection to comic books or graphic novels and more of a generalized pop cultural interest in the latest projects that Hollywood is peddling. One or two throwaway lines make mention of this, but ignoring it instead of more robustly embracing or trying to understand this pressure point puts a glossy shine on the radical metamorphosis that Comic-Con has undergone, and how that in turn has impacted — for better or worse — both the present-day marketing and moviemaking formulas. Fans will applaud, but more inquiring minds will be left wanting for a little more. For the movie's trailer, click here. For more information, including VOD options, click here(Wrekin Hill Entertainment/NECA Films, PG-13, 88 minutes)


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