Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope" Review

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is a rousing celebration of geekery, but will general audiences accept it?  Click on the jump to see my review.

The annual San Diego Comic-Con is like the church for geeks.  If you’re reading this, then you probably are ‘in the know,’ meaning you’ve either heard of the once-a-year event, or have actually attended with the other 100,000 of us.  In few other places in the world will you find such a gathering to celebrate film, pop culture, and of course comic books. That was the original intent in 1970, when the Con attracted only 500 people.  Today, the four-day event occupies a massive presence around San Diego’s convention district, snagging traffic and leading many outsiders to gawk at the odd collection of Stormtroopers, superheroes, and scantily-dressed womenfolk that populate the event.  Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is both recognition of the event’s stature in popular society, and also a lesson in the way geekery is marketed.  Director Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) weaves the film through the viewpoints of two aspiring artists, one comic book dealer, and two geeks as they attend the 2011 convention.  We gain valuable lessons about the challenges which artists Eric Henson and Skip Harvey face as they submit their drawings in the hopes of landing a job with a major comic company.  But the movie also celebrates the heart of Comic-Con as a place where memories are made, such as the story of James Darling, as he uses a Kevin Smith open-mike discussion to propose marriage to his girlfriend.
Spurlock has assembled a nice mix of real attendees, comic book artists, and self-admitted Hollywood geeks to tell his story.  There are appearances by directors Joss Whedon (Firefly), Kevin Smith (Dogma) and Eli Roth (Hostel), who seem genuinely excited about sharing what Comic-Con means to them.  Even actresses and personalities like Olivia Wilde, Candace Bailey, and Morgan Webb announce their love for the Con.  These and other testimonials form a nice ribbon throughout the story and represent some of the funniest parts of the film.  Spurlock keeps the film generally upbeat but isn’t afraid to highlight the opinions of some who are concerned that the Con has become too diverse and worry that Hollywood is using these events to test-market their attractions at the Con’s expense. 

While not an unfiltered look, I genuinely liked Spurlock’s take and the film overall.  The one question on many critics’ minds is whether the movie will connect with general moviegoers, who may never have heard of Comic-Con and might regard the costumes and strange attitudes of some to be part of an underground cult.  Although it’s playing in limited release at the time of this posting, I strongly encourage you to see it.  Hope is good fodder for the uneducated, genuinely funny, and even a little heartwarming.  It summarizes the heart of Comic-Con without becoming too pushy or propagandistic and you feel like you’ve connected with real people. 

But let’s not get carried away with the hugs here: we geeks still prefer giant mash-up alien warfare and entire rooms of Slave Princess Leias posing for cameras.  

Thanks to SandwichJFilms for getting OPC into this screening.