Comic-Con fails to find cinematic footing

Football fans have the Superbowl. Music fanatics have the Coachella music festival. And geeks have Comic-Con.

The annual event, held in San Diego, is a crowded, chaotic and exciting four days where geek culture is front and center. Now, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, the man behind Supersize Me and Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, has opted to explore that world.

Book worms · Comic gurus, including President of Mile High Comics Chuck Rozanski (above), offer their expert opinions on the industry and the ins and outs of the convention in the new documentary Comic-Con. - Photo courtesy of Strategy PR

An immersive director, Spurlock always gives a very personal, human spin to his films. That said, this should be the best look into the Comic-Con experience, right?

The documentary, however, never quite catches its footing. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is, at best, uneven.

The movie is sharply put together, with good visuals and a nice selection of interviewees from the various niches of the convention, but it can’t seem to decide what kind of movie it wants to be.

For the most part, the film follows five convention-goers and their struggles throughout the event. There are two amateur but talented artists looking to break into the industry, a costume designer entering into the annual masquerade with her friends and a retailer looking for big sales to help his company.

Though engaging, the storylines are limited and only focus on small aspects of the overall Comic-Con experience. Even the subplot with a convention fan who is planning on proposing fails to really expand the narrative’s scope. The main convention just feels like a secondary element to the movie.

Sincerity is the film’s biggest problem. Though the movie never outright insults the people featured in it, Comic-Con still focuses on crazy costumes, awkward social scenes and stereotypical nerd elements. The film feels like it was made to mock Comic-Con fans.

And it’s not the fault of poor editing or direction — it’s just a bit of poor taste from the filmmakers. Well-paced and structured to give an appropriate introduction to Comic-Con, the film draws audiences in. And the depiction of Comic-Con’s subjects gets better near the end as the film tries to offer an emotional finale. It still it comes off as forced, however, because of the way the film is edited together.

That’s due in part to Spurlock’s physical, on-screen absence from the film. In his past works, Spurlock has been a presence on camera, offering a human face and serving as a kind of filmic Watson or as an analogue for the uninitiated viewer. Here, despite directing the film, he isn’t on camera and doesn’t provide a voiceover, which might explain the film’s distant feel.

Beyond the narratives, the film also features a number of interviews with comic book creators, such as Matt Fraction, and filmmakers, such as Joss Whedon. But with the somewhat mocking tone the film takes with its lead characters, these people — even over-the-top personalities like Kevin Smith — oddly end up coming across as the true, level-headed defenders of Comic-Con.

Though these segments are isolated from the convention, they serve as the film’s highlights — giving a sense of what makes Comic-Con so important and likable. But with these faults, the film is well-made. Any filmmaker who can make a movie in the crowded chaos that is Comic-Con has accomplished an impressive feat.

Though the film tackles a difficult subject to film, Comic-Con doesn’t really give one a feel of being inside the convention center, it still feels as if one is only in the periphery. It’s as if the documentary is looking in on the convention, rather than being a part of it.

But even if the film never grasps a good sense of the convention, it’s still a visually enjoyable feature.

The movie flaunts plenty of interesting effects and montages. One noteworthy recurring element is that it transitions between scenes that show off animation designed to simulate the look of a comic book. It’s something that’s been done in movies and television shows before, but here it actually looks good, rather than merely distracting.

Comic-Con tries to offer a look into one of the biggest media events in the world but, unfortunately, ends up only giving viewers a cursory glance. The film has its entertaining moments, but they’re countered by uneven pacing and a mocking tone that leaves the film feeling uncertain of what it’s trying to do.