Con Artist, by Kyle Anderson
San Diego Comic-Con is like going to a different planet, one made entirely of awesome. It’s basically like the collective dreams of every little kid who played with action figures a couple years longer than they should have. It’s grown exponentially over the last several years and now offers things to fans of pop culture of all kinds, not necessarily just “geeks.” It’s a very difficult thing to describe and it would be nearly impossible to do it justice in any format. However, documentarian Morgan Spurlock, he of handlebar mustache fame, attempted to capture the frenetic and varied atmosphere of the weekend-long nerdgasm in his new film, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. The clever title is pretty emblematic of Spurlock’s reference-heavy filmmaking style which seems tailor-made to a film about Comic-Con, however he’s known far more for political or social issue films that’s partially the problem here: what’s the issue?
No camera crew has ever gotten to film much of the San Diego Comic-Con experience and an objective, non-biased look at the goings-on is not Spurlock’s style. Generally, Spurlock himself hosts or stars in his docs, (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) and usually that’s where he finds his focal point, however he’s nowhere to be found onscreen here. His films need a hero, and in this case, he replaces himself with several fans all attending the Con for different reasons. The main “characters” are as follows: two wannabe comic book artists from different walks of life who are going to show off their art to big time publishers, there’s a young lady and her friends who design and make elaborate video game-themed costumes who are there to enter the masquerade, a comic store owner from Colorado who goes every year to sell comics but as business has been down is forced to put his extra-rare books up for sale, and a young man who met his girlfriend at Comic-Con the previous year and who hopes to propose to her this year in a mighty spectacular way. There’s also a guy who collects action figures, to the chagrin of his wife, who is going to the Con to obtain a very special figure. He’s in the movie for about five minutes, total. Thanks for that, Morgan.
With so many focal points, it’s hard to get truly invested in any of them, however Spurlock knows how to tell human drama and each storyline gets a climax, some more profound than others. Peppered throughout are talking heads of Comic-Con goers both famous and not discussing their experiences and likes. With people like Kevin Smith, Eli Roth, Joss Whedon, and Stan Lee (among many others) offering sound bites, this section is full of laughs and fun insight that couples well with the random footage of the Con’s mayhem of costumed consumers. Whedon and Lee co-produced the film along with Spurlock and Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles and it’s clear they’re big fans of both the Con and the project of documenting it. For my own sensibilities, this is what I wished more of the documentary was about.
I’d have liked to know about the inter-workings of the massive convention and maybe see a bit of its history, but I realize a textbook approach would not have been as engaging to most people. Spurlock likes to tell stories about people, and that’s perfectly fine, however there seemed to be too much going on for an 88 minute movie and some of the people we spend a lot of time with up front are nearly forgotten by the end. I understand trying to accurately depict such an enormous event is difficult, and there is a lot of footage of the con floor which, as a person who has been there once, brought back memories, but overall the approach to the doc seemed superficial. It couldn’t decide what kind of documentary it wanted to be and so kind of skirted across the surface. I think the real issue was that Spurlock didn’t have a point of view of his own. He’s used to proving a thesis in his films, or at least exploring something he believes in, but here it’s just a group of people doing things. He does his best to make their stories compelling and is sometimes successful, but when the film was over, I felt like I hadn’t really learned anything. While often charming, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is ultimately forgettable.