Editor’s Note: This review first ran as part of our Fantastic Fest coverage, but Comic-Con Episode Four hits limited theaters this week.
Delivering a massive event with his trademarked smile behind the camera, Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope is the kind of joyous celebration that might also serve as a gateway drug for those not initiated into geek culture. It’s a documentary that easily straddles the line between service to those already fascinated by the subject and to those that haven’t ever heard of a comic book.
It could have been annoyingly fluffy, but Spurlock has crafted a film that doesn’t just act as advertisement for the largest comic book/multimedia convention in the country. In fact, the question of whether the convention is still faithful to its comic book roots is at the center of the multi-faced exploration that gives the movie much more dimension than it initially lets on.
The doc is composed of several stories – a pair of artists looking to break into the business, a costume designer and her crew looking to make a mark, a young couple who fell in love at the event, and a comic book dealer who is trying to justify coming back financially. All are woven together with expert timing (and a fun, comic book style art element that turns them into characters of a different sort).
A Fan’s Hope, despite its intractable title, is a breeze to watch. It’s a full spectrum story with candy-color commentary from celebrities like producer Stan Lee, Seth Green, and producer Joss Whedon about why they love Comic-Con. Fortunately, the love fest is given context by the hopes, dreams and failures of the attendees. In that sense, it becomes a sports story where Holly Conrad (the costume designer seen with her team above) and two charismatic artists try to transcend the boundaries of their fandom by becoming part of the world they love so much. It is their journeys that provide the most triumph and tragedy. The bulk of the laughs come from a young man desperately trying to get away from his girlfriend for a moment to pick up a custom engagement ring which he plans to offer her at the Kevin Smith panel. And, yes, it’s a sequence that sends your heart into your throat.
However, the most compelling of the stories comes from Chuck Rozanski, the president of Mile High Comics. He’s a veteran in the world of comic book dealing, but tough times and a diminished presence for comic books at the comic book convention have taken their toll. While crowds swarm the film and television booths on the main floor at Comic-Con, foot traffic isn’t quite as busy where their print inspirations are concerned. His is the largest question mark looming over the movie – especially as he’s placed a treasured, ultra-rare comic for sale against his personal wishes in order to try to make ends meet.
Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope is a wonderful movie. It combines deep passion and intelligent storytelling to deliver something celebratory and engaging. The tension and hope you feel for the amateurs is just as compelling as the anecdotes from the famous creatives who built the icons of which many worship at the altar.
Comic-Con is a giant event, but underneath all the cosplay and jokes about deodorant use, there’s a growing culture of people in love with art that demands to be hailed – and this film has done just that.