Hello and welcome to a very special edition of Buried Credits we have dubbed “Star Wars Month”! For three weeks in January we will be exploring the films of the three main actors of the original Star Wars trilogy! Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten, or unknown film and TV credits, continues this week with works featuring Mark Hamill.
Comic Book: The Movie (2004)
Comic book film adaptations are getting a lot of flack right now. People praised Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy for its gritty realism, but now people are tiring of superhero movies cloaked in darkness, like crusaders of the night. With the recent Captain America and Avengers films, certain audiences aren’t enjoying the gritty and nihilistic takes on their favorite superheroes, especially with DC’s polarizing outings like Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad. However, people are still flocking to see these movies, so no matter what comic book fans and audiences might think, the films are still dominating the box office.
Back in the early 2000s, Mark Hamill starred in and directed a film about this exact thing: only from the perspective of the angry comic fan fighting against gritty film re-imaginings, whilst attempting to satirize comic fandom as a whole. Comic Book: The Movie is a mockumentary following the character of Donald “Don” Swan (Mark Hamill), the biggest fan of “Commander Courage,” a fictional superhero with similar star power and moral standing of characters like Superman or Captain America. As the foremost expert on all things Commander Courage, he is brought in by a big movie studio who are giving the character a big screen adaptation. But, unfortunately for Don, he learns that instead of making an adaptation of the “Golden Age” comics of Commander Courage and Liberty Ladd, they are opting to adapt the recent comic reboot Codename Courage and Liberty Lass, a dark and gritty re-imagining where COURAGE is an acronym and a black masked anti-hero with his sexy sidekick mainly there for cleavage. The movie studio execs, led by annoying money grubbing Taylor (Roger Rose) and Anita (Lori Alan), try to distract Don from his vendetta against uthe gritty newer version of the character by assigning him a cameraman named named Ricky (Jess Harnell), so they can make a documentary about the character and it’s unveiling at San Diego Comic-Con. Once they get to San Diego, however, Don, along with his friend Derek (Tom Kenny) proves to be a big obstacle as he pulls out all the stops to try and get the fans and potential actors to dislike the idea of a Codename Courage movie – which includes bringing in the only living relative of the creator of Commander Courage, Leo Matuzik (Billy West).
The biggest problem with Comic Book: The Movie is its length. About an hour into proceedings, it feels like it’s starting to lag – and given that it runs for nearly two hours, this isn’t a good thing at all. The jokes are plentiful, but a lot of them don’t hit the mark and the whole movie is basically one big joke about nerd and comic convention culture. If it had been cut down to 80 minutes it could have been a lot better. Only half the jokes really hit, and this is coming from a comic nerd who goes to conventions every year. There’s a lot of moments in the film that are five minutes or so for a single gag that goes nowhere and doesn’t enhance the movie or story in any way. Part of the problem could be based around a lot of the film being relatively unscripted. But really, it’s just quite tiresome and boring.
I will say there are some good moments though, especially with its commentary on gritty reboots and film adaptations. Coming out in 2004, the big super hero blockbusters hadn’t really hit much past Spider-Man and X-Men, but nowadays with darker and grittier versions of our heroes, the complaints and problems being brought up by Hamill in Comic Book: The Movie are incredibly relevant to contemporary superhero flicks. In this regard, I can appreciate Comic Book: The Movie. Another great thing about the film is its abundance of wonderful cameo appearances, including: Hugh Hefner (Playboy), Kevin Smith (Clerks), Stan Lee (Marvel Comics), Lloyd Kaufman (Troma Entertainment), Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and many many more. The biggest stand out in the film, however, is Jess Harnell. He portrays his character Ricky, a character who should come across as a bit of a dick, as a fun and chill rock and roll stoner – and he does it perfectly. Harnell is an absolute riot from start to finish and the film is better when he’s on screen.
Don Swan is an every man and Mark Hamill plays him perfectly. It helps that it’s also Hamill’s movie and he is directing it, but with what he did creating this character, he clearly understands the passion of being a comic book fan. The character was clearly born from a place of comic book fandom, and Hamill portrays that on screen wonderfully, going between the pure ecstatic love for his character, to his devastation whenever he hears more news about the film. I wouldn’t say he loses himself in the character, however: as much as I feel like that is part of who Hamill is, he just portrays an overly nerdy fanboy version of himself. But he is still very good at it.
Verdict: Better Left Buried
As fun as this movie can be at times, it’s really bogged down by being way too drawn out and incredibly boring. A lot of the humor is a miss and, by the end, it feels like you’ve just undergone an endurance test. What makes it worse is that it lacks a conclusion for the most part, unless you sit through the credits to see some of the aftermath. But by point you might be too exhausted to care. Jess Harnell is a revelation and a real saving grace at times, along with some very topical commentary on the genre and its fandom. But, other than that, there isn’t enough going for it to give it the two thumbs up.
Come back tomorrow when we check out a much more recent film in the vein of The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Darkside with a plane full of passengers going a little cuckoo.