Back to the Future Part III (1990)

22 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

While “Back to the Future Part II” was more of a zany screwball comedy and not really with the human emotions aspect that made “Back to the Future” the great film that it is, “Back to the Future Part III,” the final chapter of the “Back to the Future” trilogy, is actually closer to capturing that emotion that the original film had. While it has moments as goofy (though also as fun) as in the second film, there is still something good and moving within the human-interest story that is found here. As a result, it’s still not quite up there with the original film, but it’s still a terrifically entertaining movie that winds up having more on its mind than just slapstick and action.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. “Part III” begins where “Part II” left off, as teenage time-traveler Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has returned to 1955 to settle things so that his present-time of 1985 will be fixed after a mishap. His companion, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd), accidentally ended up going back in time to the Old West in 1885. After sending a 70-year-old letter to Marty to be delivered at that particular point in time, Marty enlists the help of the 1955 equivalent of Doc Brown to restore the time-traveling DeLorean motorcar so that he can get back to the future. But Marty soon discovers that Doc is destined to be shot by a bandit, Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), who of course is an ancestor of Marty’s bully in the other two films, Biff Tannen. So once the DeLorean is up and running, Marty decides to travel back in time to 1885 and rescue his friend before that happens.

Now in the Old West, Marty reunites with Doc, but runs into a problem—after a run-in with some Indians, the DeLorean’s fuel line is torn, and so without gasoline, Marty and Doc must come up with another way to bring the car up to 88mph in order for the “time-circuits” to operate and bring them back to the future. Their scheme includes pushing it with a freight train and hoping it bring it up to enough speed that it works. But there’s also another problem. Doc has fallen in love with a local schoolteacher, Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen). Upon meeting her, he is instantly attracted to her, and the feeling is mutual. The feeling is so much so that Doc sometimes forgets that he owes it to himself not to interfere with history again, even if it means going back to the future and leaving Clara behind. Marty has to be the one to talk some sense into him, for a change.

This element of “Back to the Future Part III” is the sweetest and most interesting of the film. Lloyd and Steenburgen are great together and exhibit convincing, appealing chemistry. It gives Lloyd a chance to show further dimensions in his character of intelligent Doc Brown, and Steenburgen’s Clara is not a one-dimensional floozy for Doc to fall for; she’s an odd, quirky woman who is able to capture Doc’s heart with no problem. She’s easy to like and even easier to fall for. This is the kind of performance I was hoping to receive from Steenburgen in a similar time-travel comedy/adventure, “Time After Time” with Malcolm McDowell.

Oh, and I forgot to mention Marty’s encounter with the big, bad bandit himself, “Mad Dog” Tannen. This encounter leads to Marty standing up to him when he threatens Doc and Clara, and Mad Dog challenging him to a shootout. (Although, instead of high noon, it’s high eight a.m.) Marty thinks this won’t happen, as he and Doc are expected to leave for home before that time. But of course, something has to go wrong, and Marty must ultimately face up to the jerk once and for all.

“Back to the Future Part III” is essentially a Western, and it’s an immensely entertaining one. Even if this Western world is more of a “movie-Western” than an “actual-Western,” it’s still enjoyable to see the standard stuff you usually see in Westerns. (You even see Pat Buttram as a regular in a bar.) It’s a fun Old West world that, much like “Back to the Future Part II”’s futuristic design, the production design for this Western town is impressive.

“Back to the Future Part III” concludes the “Back to the Future” trilogy, and ends on a satisfying note that pays off everything that was set up and is creative in its storytelling. It makes you want to rewatch the entire trilogy from the first film to the last to view the full experience as a whole itself.

And that’s just what I do with the entire “Back to the Future” trilogy. Yes, the first film is my favorite movie of all time, and the sequels are somewhat lesser in tone, but they are still fun to watch and I like them without comparing them to the original so much. They may not be as good, in that case, but they are still highly enjoyable, energetic romps.

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