For this review, I’d like to pull back the “magic curtain” for just a moment, and ask for a little audience participation. Don’t worry, you won’t be graded on any of this. I’d like you all to close your eyes and picture your favorite comic book or literary character. Imagine that your character has just been adapted into a big budget summer blockbuster film. Sounds great, right? Now picture your character on the big screen in all its glory except… your character has been run through the “Hollywood Machine” – origins and motives changed, costumes and sets altered to a super-gritty, hyper-realistic state. Its to the point where the character has become almost unrecognizable. How does that make you feel?

As a fan of both comics and movies, I know the feeling I would get: shock and disbelief mixed with a healthy dose of “nerd rage,” and I’m willing to bet that many of you would feel the same way. Comic Book: The Movie is an exploration of these themes and feelings, through the use of the great, if utilized correctly, “mockumentary” film style. And who better to lead us through this than pop culture icon and comic fanatic Mark Hamill.

The film begins by introducing our “hero,” Donald Swan (Hamill). He is a high school history teacher, and all-around fanboy, and his favorite comic character is the fictitious Commander Courage, which borrows heavily from Superman, Captain America, and oddly enough, The Vision and Super Chief. Commander Courage is heading to the silver screen, however, the iteration being adapted is his gritty, Punisher-like ‘90s revamp, Codename: Courage. In short, Swan is not happy with this decision. When he is asked to be a technical advisor for the film he decides to single-handedly try to change the studio’s mind and make the movie he, and presumably the world, wants to see.

Opposing him are studio executives Anita Levin (Lori Alan) and Taylor Donahue (Roger Rose). They are the standard Hollywood talking heads who don’t know or care to know about the roots of the Commander, only that this film could potentially make them and the studio a ton of money. Along the way, the film picks up more secondary characters, like Rickey (Jess Harnell), the party hard camera man that is supposed to be following Swan, and Derek Sprang (Tom Kinney), Swan’s long-time friend and Courage fan. Rounding out the cast, Swan traces the genealogy of the original creator of Commander Courage, a feat I have a hard time deciding whether it is obsessive or just plain creepy, and discovers Leo Matusik (Billy West), the completely oblivious or possibly brain damaged heir the beloved character, and all of its licensing rights.

The movie spends most of its time switching back and forth between interviews and video shot from San Diego Comic-Con 2004, and culminates with a ridiculous scene in which Swan, dressed head-to-toe in spandex, makes a heartfelt speech to the convention attendees about not altering the Commander for the big screen. Comic Book: The Movie is also filled with cameo appearances from both the comic book and film industry, including (but not limited to) Matt Groening, Peter David, Paul Dini, Bruce Campbell, Lloyd Kaufman, Kevin Smith, who applied his Superman movie anecdote (“He has to fight a giant spider in the third act.”) to the Courage lore, and Stan “The Man” Lee.

Before we move on, I’d like to say that I really wanted to like Comic Book: The Movie. I think the premise in intriguing. I like the fact that the majority of the main cast is primarily voice actors. This gives them a chance to step out of the recording studio and be seen. The pseudo-documentary style is, in theory, the best way for the film to be shot, and the general message, the idea that not everything needs to be updated, repackaged, or modernized to be enjoyed is relevant, given the state of many recent comic book movies and their tendency to ignore much of the original story and/or character history (I’m looking at you, X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

Having said that, this movie is a mess.

Very early on it becomes apparent the majority of the film was shot unscripted, and in many cases in one take. Under a cast of improvisation-style actors, this can be a great asset, leading to more realistic dialog and naturally flowing scenes. However, in the case of Comic Book: The Movie, the end result is a multitude of stuttering and actors constantly talking over one another. The lack of script also leads to extra work for Hamill, who seems to be the only person in some cases who knows where he wants the scene to go. This is very apparent in a short interview segment with Hugh Heffner. In it, Hamill all but drops his act completely in his attempt to steer the conversation in a suitable direction.

Another point to mention is the cinematography. The use of handheld cameras was a good choice, and added to the documentary style Hamill was going for. The editing of the scenes just did not work for me. A scene would play along, and out of nowhere it would cut to pointless crown scenes, many times having little or no barring on the previous scene. For example, about halfway through the movie, we come to a sequence where Swan has hired an actor to dress up as the original Commander Courage in order to sway the public into convincing the studio to change their movie. As the scene progresses, more and more cast members argue with the faux Commander and each other. Without warning, we’re treated to 2 minutes of crowd shots – no dialog, just quick pans of people in costumes, accompanied by a goofy music track. Then, just as quickly, we cut back to the main cast with no mention why we just saw an overweight Batman buy a copy of Betty & Veronica #12. To me, this is just bad filmmaking.

Comic Book: The Movie is a perfect example of a film with a great concept and poor execution. To be honest, I may be spoiled by the more noted mockumentaries like NBC’s The Office, FOX’s Arrested Development, and just about any of Christopher Guest’s films. I don’t know. I guess I would have liked to see this movie cut a little tighter, and with a basic script that can be built upon and diverged from at the whim of the actors. All things considered, I give Comic Book: The Movie 2 out of 5 stars.

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The Author

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham was born at a very early age, and shortly after became entangled in the world of film. His first memories are of seeing King Ralph in his local theater. He learned to talk with the help of Adam West's Batman: The Movie. He's one of the few people to still own a working RCA Videodisc player (heck, it's where he first watched Young Frankenstein!). When Sam is not perusing his extensive B- movie collection or sitting in dark theaters with a tub of popcorn, he is usually found reading comic books, fixing computers, toiling away at his day job, working some nights at a local radio station as a "soundboard guy," and going to class so that he can one day toil away at his day job fixing computers. One time, Lou Ferrigno conned him out of $20.00. But that's another story...

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7 Comments

  1. July 24, 2009 at 1:52 pm — Reply

    I ALMOST agree with you!

    I have this movie, and picked it up not to soon after it was released. I did not have high expectaions for it, and I was not disappointed.

    I began the movie with the expectation that I needed to BELIVE that this was a real documentary regading this character, made by a guy who loves the character, and is horiffied to find out what was being done to him. The shoddy filmmaking I chalked up to the Swan character’s lack of experience and wholesome fanboy glee. If it sounds like I am making excuses, I’m not. I just found it the best way to enjoy mockumenteries, emerse yourself in their world. This is supposed to be the story of a thrity-something year old man wanting to show the rest of the world the character he loves and have them see it in the same light.

    Was it great? No. Was it fun? Depends on your idea of fun. I was painfully embarassed for Swan’s character multiple times, but enjoyed the movie overall. But, I still agree, not much more than 2 stars, but fun for the cameos

    Swan – Hey, can I sit with you guys?
    Star Wars Actors – NO!

  2. July 24, 2009 at 2:02 pm — Reply

    Let me just say I haven’t read the interview at this point. I saw it got two stars. I’m about to read it. But I need to really say that this is one of the only, if not the only, movie I turned off 15 minutes in and never went back to watch. I want to give the former Jedi Master a dollar just because I felt so bad. I didn’t watch it alone either.

  3. Rev
    July 24, 2009 at 3:26 pm — Reply

    The one shining light on this DVD is the special features. It’s during a panel featuring almost all the voiceover actors in the flick while Hammil was busy setting up a scene. A good hour or so of fun.

  4. (Hitman) Sam Dunham
    July 24, 2009 at 3:37 pm — Reply

    @ Stacy B.

    Hey, I can live with an almost.

    Y’know, I considered the idea that it was supposed to be poorly shot while I was watching the film. But I guess for me it came down to the idea that even if it was supposed to look “bad,” it still looked just plain bad.

    And yes, that was a good line!

    @ Anthony Schiavino

    I’d still try to watch the movie, because it does have a few good parts. Or, if nothing else, view it from the “trainwreck” perspective – so bad, but you can’t look away! Hope you enjoyed the review.

  5. hermit
    July 24, 2009 at 3:38 pm — Reply

    i don’t have time to explain, but me and my friends loved it. yes it has flaws, but it is a pretty entertainnig piece.

  6. BallsMonkey
    July 25, 2009 at 1:09 am — Reply

    I bought this movie without knowing anything about it, and I loved every second of it.

    This movie is great. It’s entertaining, it speaks to comic fans, it’s got a great cast. It’s got it all. Mark Hamill nailed this one. Fuck all the haters.

  7. Kurt Fenreer
    July 26, 2009 at 12:15 am — Reply

    Mark Hamill cracked me up. Aside from that, Mark Hamill cracked me up.

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