When Morgan Spurlock filmed Comic-Con, we have to admit we were nervous that another nerdsplotation flick might be in the works. But we're happy to report that Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, is the farthest thing from it. In fact this movie is stuffed with love, heart and appreciation for geeky topics.
But underlying the "Once of Us" hug sessions is a festering worry about how Hollywood is poisoning the water. Almost every interviewee in the documentary has the same love/hate feeling towards Comic Con's rocketing popularity, "This is our house, Hollywood, get out!... But please find us jobs, fund movie projects and allow us to bounce wedding proposals off of you." And if the movie had delved deeper into this barely-masked spite, it would have been a much, much stronger film — and might appeal to a broader audience.
Spurlock followed six subjects, including a costume designer, a comic book retailer, two aspiring Illustrators, a collector, and a pair of bunnies masquerading as people who found love at the Con. Sprinkled in between each hero's quest to the Con are tons of interviews from fans, professionals and Comic-Con royalty such as Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Matt Fraction, Grant Morrison, Edgar Wright, and a whole lot more.
Together these interlocking narratives and star studded cameos attempt to explain one question, Why do people come to Comic-Con? The simple answer: To belong. Countless interviewers share their warm hug stories, "No one judges you because you're a 6'2" black man who likes to wear superhero costumes." Cosplayers get misty eyed, and Joss Whedon goes all warm and fuzzy. The overarching theme to the entire film is to show the world that this is where the world welcomed every genre enthusiast with open arms. And it's nice. Very nice. Who doesn't like a hug? But we still wish they had dug deeper.
For example here's a tiny excerpt of one of the many little jabs this documentary takes at Hollywood. This "Get off our lawn!" mentality is surreal, especially when the documentary itself is produced and backed by Hollywood, and littered with tons of celebrity cameos (from Olivia Wilde to Eli Roth). Pair that with that fact that almost all of the subjects in this documentary are looking for jobs backed by the movie industry, and it sounds a little silly. We wish Spurlock and his camera crew had explored this notion further and asked a few Hollywood execs to talk about the double edged sword of their involvement. Or at the very least present the other side of the argument. Without the big money coming in from L.A., there would be no giant Thor throne room for everyone to take Instagram pictures in. Heck, the designer was later hired by Hollywood as a costume designer — the very job she was after!
We do sympathize with the frustration of Mile High Comics' owner when he complains, "We can't even use the loading docks because they're owned by LucasFilms, and that pisses me off. They're in our house!" Which is exactly why we wish the film-makers had pushed harder on the changing of the guard at Comic-Con. Perhaps explaining the real problems with the popularity would make people care. Show us the comic retailer stats! Where the documentary sits now, it simply feels like the message is "Things are changing and we don't like it — but at least we have each other."
That's not to say there weren't tons of amazing moments baked inside this giant, warm chocolate chip cookie of a film. Possibly the most interesting angle (for me) was watching a pair of talented young artists peddle their talents at the massive portfolio reviews at Comic-Con. Sitting in on (what is essentially) one job interview after another is soul-crushing. Especially when one person gets offered a gig (Eric), and the other (Skip) isn't. That was a little bit of this world that very few people are exposed to. And it's particularly disheartening when Skip caught a glimpse of another artist's work in the copy center — you can just see his world collapse right across face. It's brutal, but he's just so damn endearing, we can't help but continue to root for him. You'll get em next time, Skip!
A Fan's Hope manages to catch tiny little moments inside the Con. For example, Guillermo del Toro's has this adorable little spiel about what it means to be an collector and how he relishes not only the art, but knowing that he might beat out the only two other people in the world that collect this work (his particular poison? The work of Lee Brown Coye), "I dream of when [Mike] Mignola will hear that I beat him on eBay, collectors are aware of other collectors." Plus they also caught Thomas Jane being wacky Thomas Jane, an annual Comic-Con tradition.
Bottom line: You should watch this documentary if you've ever been to Con, want to go to Con, or want to explain to a friend what really goes on inside the San Diego Convention Center. I can't imagine this film appealing to anyone outside of the nerd niche, especially when it fails at digging out the tough questions. Watching this film was akin to paging through an old yearbook. It's only interesting to the are in it, but for those lucky few who got to attend Nerd High School, reminiscing makes you feel warm, silly, and a little bit old.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is available on Video Demand and iTunes today!