Watching Back to the Future Part II made me realize just how simple its predecessor was. Even with its major emphasis on time-travel (in itself a confusing concept), it was still a pretty straightforward tale of a boy who goes into the past, accidentally interferes with his future parents’ lives, and has to get them back together before he literally fades out of existence. This particular film, on the other hand, is darker, messier, and far more ambitious, which understandably turned some off when it was first released. Believe it or not, I actually admire, even appreciate it for those very reasons.
Besides being the “black sheep” of the otherwise positively-received trilogy, the main reason why people still remember this film is because it takes Marty McFly, his girlfriend Jennifer Parker, and the eccentric-as-ever Doc Brown to the astoundingly futuristic year of…um….2015*. Not only do flying cars and hoverboards cruise around everywhere like nobody’s business, but, in an amusingly satiric moment, 3D sharks also jump out at people for the sake of selling tickets to Jaws 19**.
However, don’t go into Part II like I did, expecting it all to take place in this hilariously inaccurate “future” setting. For reasons too convoluted to explain here, McFly’s 1985 life gets completely screwed up by his 1955 arch-nemesis Biff, leaving him in a bleak alternate-reality version of his hometown. Things really do get gloomy here, and the film’s audaciousness to get this dark really surprised me—and seriously impressed me at how well it worked within the story. Unfortunately, not everything else does.
Movie characters making stupid decisions is a pretty common trope, but my God, are some of the characters’ actions here frustrating. Take, for instance, the whole deal with Jennifer. When she goes into the future with Marty and Doc, her wishes to visit her adult self result in her getting knocked out by a sizzling electric gadget by Doc, who explains that that could seriously mess up the space-time continuum.
Fair enough, but if he just stored her in the back of the time-traveling DeLorean instead of leaving her out in a random alley (when asked about this by Marty, Doc shrugs it off with something like “Oh, she’ll be all right”—OK, sure), the film would literally be over before hitting the half hour mark. Adding to that, Biff is mainly able to change his own past because he steals the DeLorean… which only happens because Marty leaves its large side door open for absolutely no reason. No, really.
Despite these extraordinarily irritating conveniences, as well as a less convincing reproduction of the ‘50s setting that was done so well in its predecessor***, Back to the Future Part II still deserves some real praise. It isn’t afraid to take risks, or dig a little deeper into what exactly makes its characters tick (Marty is revealed to always get mad whenever somebody calls him “chicken”, which winds up getting his 2015 self fired from his job), making it work in its own weird, scattered, madcap way.
Of course, if you’re just here for some pure entertainment, Part II still has more than enough to satisfy. Some of the action scenes are admittedly a bit derivative of its predecessor, but they’re all so exciting and well-executed that I simply can’t complain. The music and acting are also up-to-par with the first film, and the fact that they don’t get more credit is, to put it frankly, pretty mind-boggling.
Now here comes the real kicker: is Part II as good as the universally acclaimed classic that came before it? At the risk of seriously putting off some of my readers, I have to say that it almost—almost—actually is. Sure, it’s not nearly as iconic, quotable, or even unique, but hey, I’ll take it over some cheap, unimaginative Hollywood cash-grab “sequel” any day.
*There’s a reason why semi-futuristic films like Her and A Clockwork Orange don’t specify what specific year they take place in.
**Hey, at least screenwriter Bob Gale got Zoom (or at least, the basic concept of Zoom) and split-screen TVs (no longer available) right.
***The fact that the film had to go back to the ‘50s in order to deliver a proper climax, along with that being just a cheap setup for Part III in the series, is probably the biggest issue I have with it, to be honest.