In the divisive, sometimes obnoxious tradition of Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield, Morgan Spurlock’s glibly entertaining documentaries (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) tend to filter their subjects through the persona of an endlessly self-promoting muckraker. Spurlock is conspicuously absent from his latest directorial effort, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, but there are plenty of friendly, familiar faces on display all the same, most notably the ubiquitous Kevin Smith, who leads a Greek chorus of comic-geek all-star commentators, including Joss Whedon and Harry Knowles. (Whedon and Knowles are also credited as executive producers, along with the perpetually enterprising Stan Lee.) Spurlock isn’t missed; A Fan’s Hope overdoses on celebrity commentary even without him.
A Fan’s Hope follows five unusually driven comic-book and science-fiction fans as they prepare for the geek-high holiday that is the Comic-Con convention in San Diego. There’s a veteran comic-book dealer out to make a big score with an obscenely expensive, incredibly rare comic book; an intense, attractive young costume and creature designer out to score some work in her chosen field; and an adorable young poindexter determined to propose to his girlfriend at a Kevin Smith Q&A, a setting that qualifies as the height of romance in this ingratiatingly nerdy world. (Who needs Paris when you can propose in front of Mallrats’ director and his adoring fans?) Then there are a pair of hungry aspiring artists out to wow publishers and other gatekeepers of nerd culture with their portfolios: naïve Missouri bartender Skip Harvey and, most promisingly, Eric Henson, an African-American father, husband, and military man hoping to make the big leap from comics fan to illustrator.
For a documentary supposedly focused on fans—it’s right there in the title—Comic-Con Episode IV gets awfully distracted by the star power of professional smartasses like Smith and industry titans like Lee. The well-known kibitzers continually pull focus from the documentary’s ostensible subjects, especially Henson, who is intriguing in the abstract, but barely factors into the proceedings. Smith is, as always, entertaining, but the over-reliance on famous talking heads keeps the film from delving too deep into its subjects’ psyches, or penetrating the world they inhabit. The result is a valentine to geek culture that’s crowd-pleasing but superficial, glibly entertaining in the time-tested Spurlock fashion, but unlikely to linger.