Comic Book: The Movie (2004) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, some sexual content and drug references
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Mark Hamill, Jess Harnell, Billy West, Roger Rose, Lori Alan, Daran Norris, Tom Kenny, Donna D'Errico, Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell, Kevin Smith, Hugh Hefner
Director: Mark Hamill
Screenplay: Uncredited, but mostly ad-libbed conceived of by Mark Hamill
Comic Book: The Movie is a feature-length mockumentary about the world of comic books, directed and guided by the man everyone knows as the actor who played Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill (Star Wars). It's a very inside take, probably a film that requires you to be a comic book fan to appreciate fully, and the more immersed you are, the more you will get out of it. Being a comics fan myself, I found lots to like within the confines of the movie, similar to the experience of watching Trekkies, with the exception that most of Comic Book is a fictional premise. As likeable as Hamill's film is, as a movie, it's not quite as tight as it should have been, and more importantly, not as sharp. Still, you have to admire the ambitiousness here, with a zealousness that makes you admire it even when it fails.
In documentary fashion, Comic Book: The Movie, follows the exploits of Don Swan, notorious comic book fan and historian, who has been hired by a motion picture studio to film footage to be used for the eventual DVD release of a yet to be created movie based on the Golden Age comic book, "Commander Courage." However, Swan seems much more interested in discussing the old-school Nazi-fighting version of the character, instead of the more updated anti-terrorist that the movie studios have marketed him as. With capturing the spirit of the comic in mind, Swan and his film crew travel to the nation's largest comic book convention, the San Diego ComiCon, to spread knowledge of Commander Courage to the public, and get some choice interviews from leading comic creators and celebrities. However, the movie studio isn't so keen on the direction Swan is going with the project, and a tug-of-war emerges as to the fate of the character.
Hamill does a commendable job capturing the spirit of the current state of the comics industry, while also impressing with a knowledge of comic history that could only come from someone who is a true blue fan. From the look, feel, and overall vibe of the comic world, Hamill is right on the money, and although Commander Courage is a fictional character, the history of his creation is realistically depicted, modeled on the styles of real comic book characters over the years that fans will easily recognize. It's actually the authenticity of the production that makes the film work well, when it does work, but by the same token, the satire is so acute at times, that people unfamiliar will probably not recognize much of the subtle humor. Also in its favor, the cameo appearances by the voice actors, comic book industry people, and minor celebrities do help add some variety, and the graphic interludes break up what might have been a blander endeavor.
As mentioned previously, although I enjoyed many elements of Comic Book: The Movie, I can't quite give it as much kudos as I would like as a movie. There needs to be much more substance and variety to leave a lasting impression, and while there are good moments from time to time, there just aren't enough to truly satisfy. With a little more effort, a few more story angles could have been developed which could have made the overriding effect more compelling, while also taking screen time away from some of the lesser scenes that bog the momentum down.
This brings me to another point, the length. Most feature-length documentaries preside in the 75-90 minute range, but at almost two hours, Comic Book overstays its welcome by almost a half hour. It didn't really need to, as there are quite a bit of filler scenes that should have been removed, and considering this is a straight-to-video effort, they could easily have been part of the deleted scenes instead.
I would say that the dividing line for people who might be interested in Comic Book: The Movie comes from whether you yourself are a fan of comics, and are familiar enough with the history of them, from the Golden Age to today. Otherwise, I would say, you might want to take a pass on this, as the entertainment value will be vastly reduced to just odd behavior and less than a handful of interesting moments. A praiseworthy effort by Hamill that just falls short of the mark, but if you're a hardcore fanboy, you'll probably find a gem in this rough production.
©2004 Vince Leo