Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (1989)
Huh, that poster kind of reminds me of the Time Out logo. Weird. Anyway, Back to the Future Part II shows us the continuing adventures of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), and some chick that Doc zapped into a coma. When Marty takes a trip to the future to check on his as-yet-unborn kids, the DeLorean time machine gets stolen by an aged Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) and history goes all sorts of terrible. It’s up to Doc and Marty to save the day and beat the already severely warped timeline back into shape by any means necessary.
Should we go straight to plot holes, or just focus on the fun?
“Cut me some slack, man. I thought we were friends.”
Alright, so the first Back to the Future was a fairly self-contained story, so there wasn’t a lot of room to contradict its own time travel rules (though it certainly tried). Part II, however, opts to become a full-on romp through the space-time continuum, which can get confusing as all hell, but the basic story is, honestly, pretty solid. It follows in the tradition of The Empire Strikes Back by making the second installment much, much darker, and I think that was a wise decision. The first film shows us the destructive power of time travel simply by accident; Part II demonstrates the real dangers of a DeLorean piloted by pure greed.
No, Biff didn’t just come from Free Comic Book Day.
Just when it seems like one crisis is averted, another one rears its ugly head, to the point where not all of them are resolved by the film’s finale. And why should they be? We’ve got a third installment coming up here. Still, as great as the plot points and action sequences are, they don’t flow as smoothly as the original. The pacing moves so fast that you don’t really get a chance to enjoy Doc and Marty as characters until they find themselves in their darkest hour. There are plenty of human moments in the last movie to make it a solid trilogy, but if you’re seeing II for the first time, the constant rushing may overwhelm you. If we’re strictly talking story, though, the concepts in this movie are dynamite, and if you’re looking for a flat-out adventure, you’ll get it here.
It could very well be that Michael J. Fox simply looks older, but I’ve always felt a strange difference between First Movie Marty and Sequels Marty. I’m not sure what it is. (This is why I shouldn’t be allowed to talk about acting.) Maybe it’s because the sequels added a subplot about Marty’s temper that wasn’t present in the original and it affected his performance. Maybe he just hadn’t played the character in a while and changed him up a bit. Or maybe he finally got some sleep this time.
“Doc, you got any juice left in that thing? I am Alex P. Keatoned out here.”
He’s still our Marty, though, and that’s what matters. He’s also our Marty Jr., and our Marlene, and– actually, let’s save that for the next section.
Christopher Lloyd and Thomas F. Wilson are both back as the splendid cartoon caricatures of a mad scientist and a bully that we know and love. Wilson deserves a special mention for playing his character teenaged, middle-aged, and old in one movie. They’re all distinctly different performances while still retaining that consistent Biff Tannen dickheadedness.
Wait, what, OHHHH– yeah, we really need to move to the next section.
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
And here we come to the best and worst thing about this movie: it’s wall-to-wall special effects. They’re masterfully done. There’s no denying that.
OH MY GOD HOVERBOARDS OH MY GOD NO WAY
Wow! Three Michael J. Foxes!
…the spectacle starts to wear off.
Now, I have to come clean here: I had just finished watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit before this, and that whole movie kept me asking, “How’d they do that?” And I spent most of my time wondering the same thing in this film. It bothered me. I was always looking for the matte line or the green screen around the model or the wires on that sweet sweet hoverboard, and I’ll admit to you right now, I never had this problem as a kid. I just accepted what I saw and kept enjoying the movie. Have I become a cynical adult who only wants to know how the magic trick is done? Christ, this isn’t supposed to be a critique of me.
Anyway, the effects themselves are incredible. You know who I was reminded of while watching this? Michel Gondry. It pains me to think that there is some indie movie snob out there who may have passed off this movie as Hollywood slop without realizing that the amount of work that went into pulling off some of these practical effects is absolutely staggering.
OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:
- It irks me to no end that Jennifer gets knocked out by Doc’s little sleepy-time ray at the beginning of the movie. It’s like screaming at the audience, “We didn’t know how to write her into the adventure! Sorry!”
“Pay no attention to the female!”
- There are 400 million arguments about how there’s no point in trying to fix anything in the future when you could just remember to prevent it when it happens. Sure, yeah, neat, but that’s like also saying that Marty should have knocked on 1955 Doc’s door in the first movie and said, “Hey, don’t strand me in 1955.” Blah blah blah paradox yadda yadda delayed ripple effect whee it’s a movie. Doctor Who gets ten times as wibbly wobbly every five minutes in any given episode, so if you hate fun, by all means, stop enjoying everything.
- I know they were mostly screwed over by Crispin Glover refusing to return, but man, is there a bigger meta-slap in the face of critics who claim that all sequels are just the same movie over again than to literally revisit the first movie?
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
Towards the end of the film, Marty finds himself in pretty much the most fragile point in his timeline and runs a plan past Doc via walkie-talkie. When Doc warns him of a paradox, Marty has just about had it with this time travel shit.
“Wait, wait, wait, a paradox?! You mean one of those things that can destroy the universe?“
I loved this movie as a kid and I love it now, but it just doesn’t hold up to the original and there’s no point in arguing that it does. As a sequel, though, I don’t think you could come up with a more brilliant concept for the second piece of a time travel series. The pacing could have been tweaked; if they’d spent either two minutes or an entire movie in the future, that would have given the great twists and clever third act enough breathing room to fit a few more human moments into the story. Still, this is the movie we have, and I’ll gladly take it over some other (possibly worse) reality.
UP NEXT FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE:
Back to the Future Part III (1990)
AND LATER THIS WEEK:
A Christmas Carol (2009)
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.