Back to the Future Part II (1989)

22 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I said in a previous post that “Back to the Future” is my all-time favorite movie. I truly love it because it kept me invested and entertained throughout, while also playing to certain emotions that it’s hard to fully describe how much it worked. So with that being the movie I can watch a hundred times and never get tired of, that must mean I hate the sequels by comparison, right? I mean, they are more broad and definitely goofier in tone than the first film, so with the strong way I feel towards the first film, I should necessarily hate the sequels, right? Well…I don’t. No, I really don’t. I think they’re very entertaining films in their own way, not necessarily in comparison to the original. They’re just fun action films that maybe don’t have the emotional impact of the original, but still some good treats that make them enjoyable. They’re imaginative, fun movies that I do enjoying watching every now and then, but for different reasons than the first.

Let’s start with “Back to the Future Part II.” “Back to the Future Part II” picks up right where “Back to the Future” left off, as teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has just returned home (to 1985) after a trip to the past (in 1955) via a time-traveling DeLorean motorcar invented by zany scientist Doc Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Marty’s reunion with his girlfriend, Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue, replacing Claudia Wells this time), is quickly interrupted by Doc Brown and his DeLorean as Doc frantically asks Marty to accompany him to the future and handle a situation involving his children.

So, Marty and Doc travel to the Hill Valley, California of the year 2015 so that Marty can impersonate his own teenage son and prevent an incident that would jail his son and ruin the family’s life. They succeed, but Marty now has a new goal. He buys a sports’ almanac that covers statistics for fifty years, and comes up with the idea that if he bets on the winner of a sporting event back in his own time, there’s no way he can lose. Doc talks him out of it (“I didn’t even invent the time machine to win at gambling; I invented the time machine to travel through time!”), but it turns out that old Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), the bully from the original film, was listening in on the idea, and winds up stealing the almanac and the time machine to go back in time and use it to change history. Once Marty and Doc are back in 1985, their hometown is a hellish area where Biff is rich and corrupt and married to Marty’s mother (Lea Thompson).

And so as Marty finds out that this present-Biff got the almanac from the old-Biff when he was actually young-Biff in the year 1955, he and Doc go back to 1955 and race to retrieve the almanac and set things right with the time-space continuum. Are you getting any of this, by the way?

One of the pleasures of “Back to the Future Part II” was just how much time-travel is used. It was fun watching these characters that we’ve grown to like from the first film now in the middle of a runaround through time. First, they travel to 2015; then, they go back to 1985; then, they go back to 1955 to fix a future that wouldn’t have been altered if Biff didn’t switch it to appear this way in 1985 after first traveling back from 2015…wow, describing it like that makes it even more confusing, now that I think about it. But I got into the spirit of it and wound up having a good time.

Now, it is true that the relationship between Marty and his father, George McFly, which one of the most refreshing things about the first film is missed here (in fact, George is hardly ever seen, and when he is, he’s played by a different actor than Crispin Glover). And also, when you get down to it, this sequel really is just a romp. It’s more of a complicated comedy than anything else. But in its own goofy way, it is a ton of fun. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are very game and appealing in their well-known characters, and Thomas F. Wilson has a ton of fun playing all versions of Biff—young (1955), middle-aged (1985), and old (2015). He’s an amusing villain as well.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of an actor playing different roles (and yet the same role), I might as well mention that Michael J. Fox not only plays Marty, but also his 2015 counterpart, his teenage son, and…even his teenage daughter (yeah, it’s as creepy as you’d expect).

The look of the futuristic Hill Valley in the year 2015 is incredible. Even though it’s 2013 and we’re not even close to half the things that are invented here, it still makes for a good fantasy and a nostalgic imagination-fuel that the filmmakers must have felt. They apparently went all out to make this world look credible, and it is a marvel with many things to behold. There are flying cars, hence a “skyway” (a highway in the air). There are holographic movie ads (“Jaws 19,” with a CGI shark that “attacks” passersby). There’s even a nostalgic diner called “Café 80s,” which is chuck-full of ‘80s material—there are video waiters that look like either Michael Jackson or Ronald Reagan, there are multiple TV screens that play old ‘80s sitcoms (like “Cheers” or “Taxi”), and there’s even a “Wild Gunman” arcade game that kids in the future call a “baby’s toy,” much to Marty’s surprise. Oh, and let’s not forget the wardrobe—Nike sneakers that lace themselves up to fit; a jacket that is able to fit anyone; and a multicolored reflective cap. Oh, and how about the hoverboard? There are literally so many surprises to be found in this future world that it’s hard not to admire the production design and creativity behind these props and sets.

“Back to the Future Part II” is a different movie than the original film in that it’s more of a screwball comedy. But it’s still a good, enjoyable movie that I recommend for what it is rather than just focusing on the comparisons to the first film. It’s not as emotionally involving, but it is still good fun.

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