By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
*****Note to Editors: This film will be released on Thursday April 5, and online reviews are embargoed until that day.*****
Director Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) provides an affectionate look at the film, fantasy and funny-book fans who flock to San Diego’s annual Comic-Con event in the thoroughly enjoyable documentary “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope.” Many of the interview subjects talk about taking pride in their geeky outsider status, but pop culture has been dominated by superheroes and videogames for so long by now that the 2010 gathering covered here attracted more than 125,000 attendees. That’s quite a change from the roughly four dozen who showed up for the first Comic-Con in 1970, before self-proclaimed nerds seemingly took over the entire entertainment industry.
The film’s franchise-sounding title is a joking “Star Wars” reference (there aren’t really three other “Comic-Con” movie installments). But judging by the hordes of colorful and often costumed eccentrics on display, Spurlock probably could make a dozen more of these documentaries without running out of real-life characters worth covering.
This one makes things personal by focusing on several individuals (and one cute couple) instead of providing only an overview of the show itself. Two of them are would-be comic-book artists hoping to break into the industry. Skip is a Matthew-Lillard-lookalike bartender whose parents were conventiongoers themselves. Eric, a modestly soft-spoken soldier from North Dakota with a wife and daughter, may be the most untheatrical of all the interviewees — but his drawing skill is undeniable.
In the “adorkable” fangirl category, amateur costume designer Holly and her friends hope their elaborate outfits and an impressive animatronic based on the game “Mass Effect 2” will be costume-contest prizeworthy. Their efforts may be all for naught, however, if they can’t fix some last-minute backstage mechanical problems.
Adding romance to the mix, a young fan named James wants to pull off a surprise marriage proposal to his amusingly clingy girlfriend during a massively attended Q&A session with director Kevin Smith.
Also singled out for attention is Chuck Rozanski, the gray-ponytailed 38-year Comic-Con veteran and longtime owner of mega-retailer Mile High Comics. Among the collector issues he has brought along to display at his dealer-room booth is a copy of Red Raven #1, a 1940 comic he’s not sure he wants to sell even if someone agreed to pay its half-million-dollar price tag.
The documentary also includes numerous comments from fandom favorites including legendary Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee, “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, movie directors Eli Roth and Joss Whedon, writer/artist/director Frank Miller, actor Seth Rogen and “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman. One small flaw with the film is that the many cameo subjects are identified only the first time they appear onscreen, making it hard to remember who some of the less-famous talking heads are when they pop up again later.
Spurlock, who provides no narration and lets his subjects do all of the talking, doesn’t touch on any of the negative aspects of fandom. Collector-crazed obsessions are portrayed as amusing quirks instead of potentially problematic pathologies. A much darker film could have touched on the expense of speculating on fluctuating-value collectibles, relationship problems among game players who prefer online worlds to the real one and the strange body-image perceptions imparted by characters of literally heroic proportions.
Instead, this is a love letter to forever-young fanboys (and the far fewer fangirls) who revel in their arrested development. Fortunately, it’s also a lot of fun for everyone else, too.[Rating: 4 stars]