While far from an obvious choice to helm a documentary about the allure of the San Diego Comic Convention, humorist shit disturber Morgan Spurlock does a better than admirable job of capturing the spirit of the summertime dork juggernaut while never once looking down upon or ever poking fun at the people involved. In his latest film, the somewhat awkwardly titled Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, the Super Size Me and Greatest Movie Ever Sold director doesn’t even appear on screen. Instead, he allows the lives, hopes, and criticisms of several convention goers tell their stories for themselves. It’s an unabashed love letter to people willing to stand in line for hours for several brief moments of happiness.
Spurlock follows a handful of con attendees as they navigate the waters of the 2010 nerd mecca. There’s a pair of aspiring comic artists (one a bartender and the other a soldier with a family), a group of Mass Effect 2 cosplayers and costume designers looking to knock ‘em dead at the annual masquerade, an older gentleman trying to peddle his once-great comic collection to an increasingly apathetic crowd, a toy collector who literally sprints to get his one big must-have item, and a boy looking to propose to his year-long girlfriend at Kevin Smith’s panel. Interspersed with these threads are interviews with such nerdy luminaries as Joss Whedon, Seth Rogen, Todd McFarlane, Robert Kirkman, Grant Morrison, and Guillermo del Toro (who gets one of the film’s biggest laughs because of how he seemingly wants to make Hellboy creator Mike Mignola jealous of his comic collection).
Unlike his more critical films, Spurlock does away with any smirking cynicism or overt satire. Through these stories, he gives a giant hug to the types of people who toast to Harvey Pekar over shots of Jagermeister or know the value of a Red Raven #1. At the same time, despite aiming at a core demographic, he also has to appease viewers who have no clue what any of this means and only know the convention because of the hype it has gotten in recent years.
That’s not to say that the film isn’t critical in any way. The tone of the film seems to suggest that the convention is getting too far away from its 1970 inception when only a shade under 200 people showed up. A critical eye is turned – particularly by the film’s producer and co-writer Whedon in his on-screen interview – to the money that game companies and film studios think they can gain by showcasing their wares. The shift toward a more electronic media based convention gets talked about to a satisfying degree, but the one place where many fans and critics might find the film lacking would be in not having any real in-depth look at how the actual convention is run. Then again, that’s not the point of the film at all.
Spurlock shows real growth as a filmmaker here, following the stories of multiple people the audience wants to see succeed without resorting to any sort of grandstanding. The people being profiled pretty much create their own spotlights regardless of how well they fare by the end of it all. It probably doesn’t hurt that the film comes co-produced by Whedon, Stan Lee, and Harry Knowles, all of whom know this scene far too well, but Spurlock’s take on nerd-vana has a real sweetness to it that’s easy to gravitate to. As with anything involving a somewhat touchy subject, there’s bound to be criticism and push-back from the more ardent members of the community who might just see the whole fluffy affair as just a commercial to go to the convention. But even they can probably tell that Spurlock goes for entertainment over expose here. If anything, they can take heed that he probably won’t make any prequels to this one to tell us where parts one through three went or re-cut the movie several times with added digital effects.