Set immediately after the events of Back to the Future, this 1989 sequel opens as Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) warns Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) about the fate of his children, and together they go “back into the future.”
It’s an altogether tackier affair in Back to the Future Part II, as in II many dodgy prosthetics. This film has some of the worst ageing makeup ever, which is odd considering the otherwise impressive special effects. Flying cars, hoverboards and self-drying clothes are all brilliantly realised by Robert Zemeckis and his team, who seamlessly integrate characters’ interactions with the events of the original film. But just as in Contact, which would see Zemeckis splice footage of Bill Clinton into the drama as though he were actually there, the special effects cannot mask an inferior movie.
As it’s now 2015, the futuristic year to which our protagonists travel, a lot has been written about the predictions made by Zemeckis and his screenwriter Bob Gale. They were pretty accurate in terms of the press drone, the Scenery Channel and Jaws 19 in 3D: “This time it’s really really personal.” They were less accurate regarding hover-bins, self-tying shoes and fax machines, which would barely last long enough to survive the film’s opening weekend. But ignoring the foresight of a comedic work of fiction, this 2015 is unbearably annoying. Why would people wear two ties in the future? Because the film is being wacky for the sake of it. Stupid costumes, garish colours and general noisiness leave you wishing they’d just stayed in the past.
Come to think of it, why did they travel to the future? It’s perfectly possible to prevent future events without time travel. The Doc gets all uppity about misuse of the time machine, but it doesn’t get much more trivial than altering minor details of their future personal lives. And if they’d stayed in the present, Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) would have never got hold of the sports almanack and the whole thing could have been avoided. By travelling forwards in time, then back to the present, then further back to the past, the film feels messy and convoluted.
The genius of the original lay in its clever plotting, which required Marty to unite his parents for the sake of his own existence, complicated by his own mother fancying him instead. In Part II, Marty must retrieve a sports almanack from Biff while protecting his other self, by whom he must not be seen, in order to save his dad from being killed. It’s much less effective, partly because we never really see his dad thanks to the absence of Crispin Glover, who was such a great strength to the original.
This darker plot feels out of step with the gaudier tone, complete with an iffy plot-point whereby a black family inhabit Marty’s house to show the unpleasant and dystopian nature of this timeline. Adding to this sense of discomfort, the increasingly cartoony characters start to test your patience, not least because it’s their annoying self-involvement that caused this mess in the first place. Why do they leave Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) in a skip? And then a porch.
Back to the Future Part II is enjoyable enough, boasting some strong special effects and Alan Silvestri’s iconic music. But it’s a vastly inferior sequel that lacks the emotional heart and simple charm of the original. It certainly doesn’t fill you with great optimism for Part III…