The truth is that San Diego Comic Con is pretty hellish. It smells awful thanks to the 20,000 gallons of dork sweat, is insanely crowded every day, most of your time is spent waiting in line and everything is insanely expensive. Director Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, chooses to ignore all of this, though, and the result is a film that not only feels like a tourism video, but a dull tourism video.
All filmed during and around the time of the 2010 San Diego Comic Con, the documentary follows a small group of people, all of whom are traveling to the convention with different goals in mind. There’s Eric Henson and Skip Harvey, who wish to become comic book artists; Chuck Rozanski, who is doing his best to keep his comic book store alive; Holly Conrad, a costume designer with goals of winning the masquerade ball; and James Darling, who has plans to propose to his girlfriend, who he also met at Comic Con. The stories are interwoven with segments featuring some of the biggest names in geek culture, from Joss Whedon to Stan Lee to Kevin Smith, who try to explain just what it is that makes Comic Con so special.
There’s no real conflict at the center of Spurlock’s latest, but that’s largely because the film ignores all challenges in favor of simply being a love letter to the convention. Many patrons of the annual event have complained loudly about how it has changed over the years, becoming less about comics and geekdom and more about advertising and Hollywood, but that aspect is never fully explored in Comic Con Episode IV. Instead the movie is more concerned with the obsessive toy collector who wants nothing more in this world than an 18-inch Galactus action figure. It’s easy to appreciate that Spurlock never mocks his subjects – instead authentically embracing their obsessions – but the lack of any kind of real analysis makes the project hollow and pointless.
Spurlock is nowhere to be seen in this documentary, unlike Super Size Me, Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden? and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold where he was front and center, but in this film it serves as a detriment because it never feels like a real Morgan Spurlock documentary. Though the subject matter is fun and casual in the director’s style, there is a sense of emptiness watching the film due to his absence. Because we end up following multiple subjects instead of just one, the whole thing becomes rather episodic and choppy, never able to find real focus. While the director decided to stay behind the camera this time in order to better emphasize the story of the fans being followed, it doesn’t feel like a Morgan Spurlock movie and that’s a bad thing.
As proven by his previous projects, Morgan Spurlock is an incredibly talented documentarian and filmmaker, but his newest never really works. The movie paints the San Diego experience as some blissful nerd nirvana where you can go and have the geekiest time of your life, but casually breezes over or minimizes the large-scale problems that the event deals with increasingly every year. Perhaps the only way to enjoy Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is to have never been at the convention personally. But then why would you care?