Exhibiting a restraint that’s practically superhuman, Morgan Spurlock keeps himself off screen and out of the way—even his cutesy graphics are nowhere to be found, aside from pertinent comic-book-panel-style transitions—in Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, a nonfiction look at the titular annual San Diego convention and the fanboydom that drives it. Of course, Spurlock’s topic affords plenty of gratingly geeky personalities to replace his own, not just genre icons like Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith, who predictably wax poetic about the virtues of childishly obsessing over properties like Star Wars and Harry Potter, but also legions of Con attendees, who justify their love of the event by claiming that it provides their outsider selves with a sense of belonging and community. That latter facet comprises the majority of Spurlock’s doc, which despite its general lack of a climactic competition element, sticks closely to a Spellbound template, using its early going to introduce a number of different conventioneers before following them through the myriad halls and auditoriums of Comic-Con, where they strive to make ends meet, find new careers, cement true love, and bemoan the event’s transformation from a comic-book showcase to a high-profile platform for new film, TV, and video-game releases.
Given the convention’s diversity of experiences, the doc’s multi-subject focus makes sense, and affords a reasonably well-rounded view of the phenomenon, touching upon, among other things, a comic dealer’s struggles to stay afloat, two artists’ attempts to break into the business, and a designer’s preparation for her performance in the Masquerade (a costume contest). Alas, Spurlock has little to say about Comic-Con other than that its attendees value it on a par with Christmas, and their various collecting and dress-up habits are perfectly natural, healthy extensions of their personalities. That’s a perspective to flatter the choir, but the director has so little interest in critically examining the nature of fanboydom—in investigating the hermetically sealed universe of pop-culture mania, of over-the-top role-playing, and of consuming fantasy projections—that the film proves little more than a de-clawed insider peek at Comic Con, affording behind-the-scenes glimpses and chats with event luminaries and aficionados (Stan Lee! Todd MacFarlane! Eli Roth! Guillermo del Toro!), but nothing approaching an even-keeled attitude. Completely uninterested in complexity or nuance, the film doesn’t even express, as its title implies, “A Fan’s Hope,” since there’s nothing that needs to be hoped for; as its unchecked fawning establishes, fanboydom and its never-grow-up ethos has, for better or worse, now become the reigning mode of our increasingly juvenile 21st-century cultural landscape.