The Fantastic Four (1993) (part 3 of 7)
The film jumps forward ten years, helpfully indicated by a rather large caption reading “TEN YEARS LATER”. Well, at least no one can accuse Sassone of being vague.
Cut from stock footage of the New York City skyline to the Baxter Building (the name of which is shown by a large banner that someone has kindly hung on the front of the building). Inside his lab, Reed shows Ben the image of a silly-looking rocket, on his silly-looking TV, which has a silly-looking blue neon strip running through it. “So, you want me to fly that hunka junk?” Ben asks.
Reed retorts, “That hunk of junk’s better than anything you’ve ever flown in the Air Force!” This film certainly pulls no punches when it comes to exposition, I’ll say that much.
Neither one of them seems to have aged appreciably during the ensuing years, but it appears Reed has taken to brushing white paint in his hair for some reason. Maybe he thinks it makes him look dignified? The two stroll across Reed’s lab (which looks like the kind of cheap, “futuristic” lab you’d see in a 1960’s sci-fi TV show), and Reed reminds Ben that he promised to fly the ship if Reed ever built it. Ben happily agrees, and comments that “now all we need is a crew.”
So, the two return to Mrs. Storm’s boarding house. Ben knocks at the door, and is greeted by Mrs. Storm who unsurprisingly hasn’t aged a bit. Ben asks, “Johnny and Susan go to outer space with us?” Great, a pilot who talks like caveman. Er… like a caveman! Mrs. Storm laughs, “I don’t know dear, you’ll have to ask them!” The way this comes off suggests that she thinks Ben’s joking, and I can’t say I blame her. She hugs them both, apparently not holding too much of a grudge against Reed for conducting a fatal experiment in her attic way back when.
Now, I’ll mention that I’m not a particularly avid reader of the Fantastic Four, or comics in general for that matter. But I do happen to know that in the comics, Mrs. Storm met a rather more tragic fate than being forced to appear in this hunka junk. So, had this film been released, I imagine that the sight of her alive and well and making bad jokes would have infuriated Fantastic Four fans a hell of a lot!
Until now, the film has remained silent on exactly why Susan and Johnny are going on the mission. Just to make sure that the audience is aware of this gaping plot hole, Reed asks Ben what Susan and Johnny know about astrophysics. Ben attempts to justify his choice by stating that they “know more about the project than anyone else on Earth.” Uh… how? And does that include Reed and Ben? If it does, that would explain why they need Susan and Johnny, as well as why the team seems so generally ill-prepared.
Inside the house, someone runs down the seriously underlit staircase and walks over to Reed and Ben. Here’s Johnny! And he’s also decided to dye his hair red in the preceding years. You know, just so that we don’t get confused and think that Susan’s going to become the Human Torch instead. Playing the older Johnny is Jay Underwood, AKA The Boy Who Could Fly. Underwood’s acting skills are best served by this section of the film. Not too objectionable, you might think—except for the fact that he has next to no dialogue until after the Four’s little accident.
Reed is quite obviously unimpressed with Johnny, and starts to say he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Johnny to go on the mission, but he’s cut off by a female voice announcing that “We’re ready.” It’s Susan, and she’s all grown up now, meaning that the film can make a seriously inept attempt at setting up a relationship between her and Reed. To be fair, the two are a good match—Rebecca Staab as Susan is just as bland as Alex Hyde-White as Reed.
The two stare at each other awkwardly for what seems like an eternity, and Johnny even starts tapping his watch [!]. Ben tries to break up the staring contest by asking if “anyone wants to come for a ride in a rocketship?” Evidently, in this film’s version of reality, people go on trips to outer space like you or I would go to the beach for a day. Okay, not me, actually. Thanks to our wonderful British weather, I do go to the beach as often as the average American goes into space.
The four of them turn towards the door, and in a moment that is totally not forced or awkward in any way, Mrs. Storm blurts out, “Look at you! The Fantastic Four!” Try to imagine someone saying that out loud in real life. Now try and imagine yourself being able to refrain from kicking their ass. Not going to happen, is it?
Now it’s time for Victor Von Doom (now Doctor Doom; that’s the advantage of being a despot, you can make PhD qualifications whatever you like) to re-enter the movie. His two henchmen inform him via video link that they’ve obtained the shipping information on “the diamond.”
“Perfect!” comes Doom’s reply. Apparently, they’re holding back on giving us a good look at Doom, because all we see is his eye, with the obligatory sliver of light across it. For what it’s worth, Joseph Culp as Doom actually gives a pretty sinister performance in this part of the film. Unfortunately, things go all to hell later on, as he acts so over the top that he makes George Gaynes’ earlier display seem dignified by comparison. And when your villain compares unfavorably to Punky Brewster’s dad, you know it’s not a good movie.
Back in New York City (which we’ll soon realize is a very poorly-disguised downtown Los Angeles), an armored van pulls up outside the Baxter Building, and a guard exits the van carrying a briefcase. Across the street, a manhole in the road pops up—fortunately, the street is oddly free of traffic, so there’s no danger of a car driving over the manhole and causing a rather bloody accident—and a jewel thief with the very creative name of the Jeweler (who resembles a less pizza-faced and more Irish version of Freddy Krueger) sticks his head out. “There it is!” he announces to no one in particular, “I can smell a diamond from a hundred miles away, and this one, well…”
Sadly, we never find out how that epic speech ended, as the film abruptly cuts to the inside of the building. Reed signs for the briefcase, and he and Ben walk over to the stairs. Ben asks Reed what’s in the case, but neglects to pay attention to where’s he’s going and lightly brushes against a blind woman who’s carrying a malformed lump of clay that’s supposed to be a statue. You guessed it—it’s supposed to be Alicia Masters, Ben’s love interest from the comics. Despite the fact that most people wouldn’t even notice such a light impact, Alicia is sent careening to the floor.
She bemoans the fact that the statue she was carrying has been shattered, and in the process looks directly at the shattered remnants. As she fumbles with the fragments, Ben sweeps her up in his arms and tells her, “It’s okay! You’re safe with me!” That’s the kind of statement that would freak out most women (especially if they were being held several inches above the ground like that), but Alicia calms down and starts fondling Ben’s face. He says that he’s sorry, and she replies, “I can sense it.” Because, you know, blind people are empaths. And then she quietly goes on her way. While this little chance encounter may seem unimportant, bear it in mind it’s the key event that causes Alicia to fall in love with Ben. No, I’m serious.
As Alicia walks to the exit, the Jeweler pokes his head out of a nearby door and immediately develops an obsession with her. A henchman appears behind him, and the Jeweler tells him to follow Reed and Ben while he goes to spy on Alicia. This is presumably because he’s too lazy to climb the stairs up to Reed’s lab.
[Editor’s Note: As the only Southern California resident participating in this Mega-Recap, I feel it’s my duty to point out the excessive cuteness of the location that’s currently standing in for the Baxter Building. It’s the same downtown Los Angeles building used for years in the opening credits of L.A. Law, a building located at 4444 Flower Street, a building which is instantly recognizable by the giant “4444” emblazoned at the top. Get it? 4444! Just like the Fantastic Four! Isn’t that just precious? And now, back to your personal cinematic purgatory, already in progress. —Albert]
Outside, Dr. Doom’s two henchmen pull up in their car, accompanied by a badly done copy of Lex Luthor’s theme from the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve Superman. Henchman Without A Beard asks Henchman With A Beard (formerly known as “European Terrorist Jesus”) what they’re going to do next. “Paaaaaay-shunse,” comes Beardy’s response. “We make no sudden muuuves. It would displease His Highness… and we would not want to do that, would we?” Non-Beardy considers this for a while before deciding that pissing off a man with superhuman strength and all kinds of horrifying instruments of death is, in fact, not a good idea.
Up in the lab, Reed opens the briefcase, and inside is an unfeasibly huge diamond. Reed carefully places it on a pedestal—evidently he spent so much money on the futuristic! décor that he can’t afford a safe—to avoid breaking it, since it’s actually a cheap glass prop. And now Reed explains to the other three why need this huge diamond.
|Reed: It’s the answer to our… [huge pause] …problems. By placing the diamond at the center of the cosmic refractor, the heat is diffused, broken into small doses, which give the prisms time to cool!|
Wow, science at its grandest, eh? Oh, wait a second, I meant to say pseudoscience at its grandest! It’s amazing how most films, instead of just giving a simple explanation of something, choose to spin out a needless amount of waffle that breaks all laws of physics in the same way Freddy Got Fingered breaks all laws of decency. I mean, saying something like “It’ll prevent the same accident Victor had” may be a lot more vague, but at least it prevents the writers from looking as if they don’t know their E from their MC2.
Reed gives a quick speech about how he’s going to make sure Victor didn’t die in vain, and it’s so inspiring and rousing that I’m not going to bother quoting it. The four of them exit the room, and Reed activates a laser-grid security system. Being a laser-grid in a movie, it has gaps in it big enough to safely herd elephants through, and it isn’t even backed up with a motion detector, or any other kind of sensor. And being a laser-grid in a cheap movie, it looks as if someone’s drawn it onto the film with a neon felt tip marker.
After a needless scene of the Jeweler watching Alicia in her workshop, Bearded Henchman informs Doom via video that they’ll “be ready to muuuve in one hour.” Doom, still just an eyeball in a sliver of light, warns them not to fail. Always good advice. Up in Reed’s lab, the Jeweler opens the air vent. “Lovely!” he comments, probably referring to the sorry excuse for a security grid. He then jumps down to the floor, then takes several hops across the laser beams to the pedestal holding the diamond. And just to prove that the security grid really sucks, he breaks the laser beams at least three times by my count, yet doesn’t trip any alarms!
Doom’s henchmen have somehow accessed the feed from the security camera in the lab (despite still being in their car), and they see the Jeweler’s activities. They report this to their boss, who somehow pulls up an entire computer file on the Jeweler. Doom responds with, “Let us see what this bizarre little thief… [absolutely gigantic pause] …has in mind.” My god, I’ve seen many a case of William Shatner Syndrome in my career as a recapper, but it’s reached epidemic proportions in this film.
The Jeweler, talking to himself again, describes the diamond as “the perfect offering” to Alicia—though frankly I have my doubts over how much a blind woman is going to be able to appreciate it—and replaces the diamond with a fake. (Or the fake with a fake, depending on how you look at it.) Uh, where the hell was he stashing that thing? In his shirt pocket? It’s as big as his frickin’ head!
As the Jeweler makes off with his prize, Doom laughs and comments that “the diamond has been replaced with a man-made replica!” Well, it’d have to be man-made, wouldn’t it? I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone shopping for a naturally grown fake diamond, yet come home empty-handed.
Doom bellows, “Now, no one will capture Colossus before me, and they… can die… in space!” I wonder how exactly he plans to “capture” Colossus.
We then get the incredibly clichéd shot of a newspaper spinning towards the camera, and the headline reveals that Reed’s shuttle will launch that day. Considering that the only real times the shuttles have made the news in a big way were with the Challenger and Columbia disasters, I can only conclude that it’s a particularly slow news day.
We cut to the shuttle, which has to be stock footage from some other Corman movie, because the launch pad is on a sand dune deep in the desert. The shuttle launches, represented (naturally) by badly matched stock footage of a real-life space shuttle launch. Then things get even better, because we now cut to a totally different spacecraft orbiting the Earth.
During the flight, it becomes apparent that Sassone’s way of simulating the feeling of being in a weightless environment was to make the cameraman drink vodka shots for the whole day before shooting this scene, then making him sit on a rocking chair while he filmed it. It’s puke-inducing, that’s for sure, but it has little else in common with actually being in space.
The four spend a minute or so shouting technical jargon that’s obviously been ripped from one of NASA’s radio logs of a shuttle mission. After a while, Johnny comments that Colossus is “closing awfully fast!” Well, you’d expect something moving at the speed of light to be “awfully fast,” wouldn’t you?
Susan deploys the shuttle’s antenna, and disappointingly, the model work was actually of somewhat respectable quality. However, my disappointment is soon alleviated by the cheap-looking cartoon lightning effects that emit from it. Problems soon become apparent: The fake diamond (which is just sitting on a metal grille of some sort) starts glowing red, while smoke and sparks appear in the cockpit.
Reed announces, “The diamond’s a fake!” in the same tone of voice that you might announce that it’s going to rain tomorrow. He orders Ben to get them out of there, but it’s too late; Colossus starts making pretty patterns for no obvious reason. The irradiation of the soon-to-be Fantastic Four is now in progress.
This sequence starts out with the Four moving around in slow motion while someone shines a bright light in their faces, and then it proceeds through various combinations of the following, all set to the obligatory ominous angelic choir:
Effects similar to those from Bowman’s journey near the end of 2001, except done for 1% of the cost
Susan rocking back and forth, eyes shut and gasping for breath in a particularly odd and slightly disturbing manner
Reed just sitting there, not even seeming to think anything odd is happening
Johnny yelling as if someone’s rammed a porcupine up his ass
Ben looking stoned (No pun intended)
“Goodbye, Dr. Richards!” remarks Doom, who is somehow observing the events. The shuttle then violently explodes. While I can feasibly imagine the four of them surviving a crash landing, I have a little more difficulty with them surviving their space craft exploding. Not to mention subsequent re-entry and smacking into the earth at what must be considerable speed.
With the explosion over and done with, Doom totally flips out and starts roaring with laughter. From hereon in, all the earlier subtlety in Culp’s performance goes flying out the window, and he acts like a stock raving lunatic. Fortunately, my section of the recap ends here, so Mr. Culp is now somebody else’s problem!