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May 16, 2011

Movie Mondays: Comic Book: The Movie

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Written by: AHudson
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Title: Comic Book: The Movie
Director: Mark Hamill
Writer: N/A
Distributed By: Miramax
Starring: Mark Hamill, Billy West, Jess Harnell, Donna D’Errico
Release Date: January 27th, 2004

Long time Commander Courage fan Donald Swanson (Mark Hamill) is given the opportunity of the lifetime. Studio executives Taylor Donohue (Roger Rose) and Lori Alan (Anita Levine) invite Swanson to make a documentary about Commander Courage and the upcoming film for the DVD extra. But when Swanson discovers they’re changing patriotic Commander Courage and teenage sidekick Liberty Lad to modern anti-hero Codename Courage and sexy sidekick Liberty Lass, Swanson goes with his gut instinct and tries to persuade the studio executives to make it like the classics.

To capture what is the essence of the comic book community and distill it into one movie is a big undertaking. And it seems like whenever someone attempts it, it just ends up being a dumbed down film with an onslaught of virgin jokes and geekgasms. Fortunately, Comic Book: The Movie smartens up and succeeds where others have failed.

The cover to practically every Marvel comic during the 1940s.

For starters, the film has Mark Hamill in it. And if you don’t know who the hell Mark Hamill is, maybe you shouldn’t be on this site until you’ve figured out who he is (hint: he’s the blond Jedi with the blue/green lightsaber and that Joker voice you’ve heard countless times on TV). Not only does he star in the film, he also helms the director’s seat. Fortunately, he’s not here simply to give Star Wars fans a reason to be excited about the film. In fact, the whole time I never thought, “Hey, it’s Luke!” or “Hey, it’s Mark Hamill!” It’s not just that he now has a beard and reddish-brown hair that keeps him from being too recognizable, it’s also the fact that he did a good job portraying Donald Swan, a good-natured but naive history teacher turned comic book store owner.

Everyone's initial reaction to the Akira script.

Also, the rest of the cast was well picked. Since the film was a “realistic” mockumentary shot during Comic Con, it was a smart move of them to pick famous voice actors. They have the experience and talent, but they’re also harder to recognize. The scene stealer here is Jess Harnell, who’s high-larious as Slash-esque Ricky. Everyone else also does a good job with a quick wit and coming up with lines. Roger Rose (Taylor Donohue) and Lori Alan (Anita Levine) hit the nail on the head with the studio executives. And of course, you’ll get all your major cameos, from Kevin Smith to Hugh Hefner to Stan The Man Lee.

If it doesn't have The Man in it, is it really a comic book film?

Along with the cast, Comic Book: The Movie is a well written parody (or since there are no credits for the writers, improvised perhaps). It satirizes the golden age Captain America style heroes and their creators perfectly. It also does a decent satire on the modern age (at least circa 2004), too. The nice part is that Hamill seems to have knowledge about both the entertainment and the business side of the industry. Not only does it do a good parody of the comic industry, but it also does a good parody of the movie industry. In many ways, Don Swan and Taylor Donahue with Lori Alan represent the relationship between comic fans and movie heads. The comic fans being good-willed and faithful, but a bit naive and stubborn for their own good; while the studio heads are smart and cunning, but far too greedy and ruthless for their own good.

Admit it, you'd watch a Commander Courage film starring Bruce Campbell right now if it existed.

I can’t really fault it too much, except for three big things. One is that sometimes it felt like it dragged on for a bit too long. It wasn’t a two hour film (only 106 minutes long), but it sure felt like it. Also, as with a lot of comedies, some of the material was funny, but some of the material just felt awkward and fell flat, especially the stuff not having to do much with comics. Finally, the film’s budget wasn’t that big. Not that it matters; that’s the nice part of the mockumentary. But at the same time, some of the material could’ve used a bigger budget or higher quality. Mainly the comic book panels and strips, which looked more like an amateur web comic than the golden age era they were supposed to come from. And considering that they had quite a few comic book artists and guests in it, perhaps they could’ve pulled a few strings and got an artist to make a few pages for the film.

If I had a dime for every time this scene played out at a convention.

But aside from those flaws, it’s not a bad film. I wouldn’t rate it as a classic such as Spinal Tap, but that’s because the film focuses more on the comics than the story and characters. Also, this film is mainly for comic fans. Not to say non-comic fans won’t get it, but much of the humor and references will completely go over their heads. However, if you’re going to go all out like with Comic Book: The Movie, it’s better to make it a love letter to comic fans than to try to appeal to everyone and fail at all levels.

Andrew Hudson



  1. Kristin

    I remember watching this film a couple years ago. It was surprisingly decent.
    Also, Bruce Campbell. Hard to go wrong there.

  2. Heard of this but never saw it. Now I want to check it out.

  3. I’ve never even heard of this movie, but I want to check it out too.

  4. Aaron Nicewonger

    “Admit it, you’d watch a Commander Courage film starring Bruce Campbell right now if it existed.”

    Yes! Yes I would!

    So, I totally need to own this on DVD.
    It’s very sad that I don’t already.

    Great write-up as always Andrew!

  5. I enjoyed this when I first got it on DVD but I haven’t been able to sit through it since. The improv styling of the film is far too uneven with more dead spots than lively ones. Yes, it is cool to see Jonathan Winters on screen again going what he does best but scenes such as those are just too few and far in between and the WAY over-sappy ending just murders any good-will generated by the filmmakers’ hard work and efforts.

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