For the first time in his career as a documentary filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock—who made himself front and center in Super Size Me, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden, and POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold—takes a total step back behind the camera for this profile of the wonderful/weird/high-and-low world of the comic book/pop-culture convention held annually in San Diego. This proves to be a wise decision. For one thing, there wouldn’t be any place for Spurlock amid the geek celebrity interviews he has put together (Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Harry Knowles, and Joss Whedon) with the principal “nerd” subjects of the film.
He also gives breathing room for what is an incredible event, a Woodstock for fanboys of science fiction, fantasy, video games, Manga, anime, blockbuster movies, and those little things called comic books. The main subjects all come to Comic-Con for their own reasons as fans (and what is a fan except a peaceful fanatic?) and also for business, their own potential fame, and personal concerns.
There is the dealer, Chuck Rozanski, who runs Mile High Comics in Colorado. He comes every year to peddle his wares, some of which are incredibly valuable. The designer, a talented costume and make-up artist, puts together an ambitious “Cosplay” (or costumed role-play) competition, which is, for this attendee/survivor of the New York Comic-Con, extremely common. The collector, who has thousands of toys at home on the shelf (much to his wife’s chagrin), will come simply for one figure of Magneto. Two illustrators, one who owns a sci-fi themed bar in Missouri, try to break into the industry with their portfolios. And an adorable young couple attends, with the guy planning to propose to her during the Kevin Smith panel. Every storyline is handled well, giving each time to be entertaining, insightful or (surprisingly) deep, and the celebrities give their own sometimes humbling accounts of what it’s like to be a fanboy or fangirl.
Much of this is very funny. Hearing how these celebrities were once stalkers of previous celebrities is particularly amusing—Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead following George A. Romero into a bathroom to say hi. The cranky old comics dealer is understandably shaken by how comics have become marginalized over the years as Comic-Con becomes more so a pop-culture convention (kind of like what Cannes is for world film), but even he finds some humor in the world of comics collecting when he gives his theory on why Nicolas Cage sells his collection.
Spurlock finds a superb balance between the harsh realities of the Con—how some artists may make it and some (like the bartender) may not just yet—and how wonderful and sweet natured it can be. For a group of people who can be contentious and argumentative when it comes to what they love (look at any given forum or just the comments bellow a movie review), when fans come to the Con, as Kevin Smith notes, they find common ground and put down their swords for a few days of all-around fun.
Yet the scenes I took away with as the most precious were between the young guy and his girlfriend leading to the big proposal. The guy had to plan everything exactly, to make sure he could ask a question to Smith, and then pop the question to her. He also had to get the engagement ring, but she never wants to leave his side as they go from panel to panel. If this were fictional it would be probably too wacky or even sitcom-ish, but in the real world, there’s humor and also poignancy in his quest. By the time the big moment comes, it’s truly suspenseful and genuinely heartwarming (helped by Smith’s self-deprecation).
Bottom line, this is a love letter to the world where Stan Lee is the king of the universe or its pope (all he’s missing is a Stan-Mobile). For those who only dabble in these interests, or not even at all, it’s a welcome introduction that immerses you for 90 minutes.