Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Release Date: November 22nd, 1989 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Robert Zemeckis Actors: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Elisabeth Shue, Thomas F. Wilson, Billy Zane
ack to the Future Part II” picks up immediately after the first film, going so far as to replay the last few minutes as a refresher course, reshot with new cast member Elisabeth Shue. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his girlfriend Jennifer Parker (Shue) hop into Doctor Emmett Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) time machine for a trip to the future. “When are we?” cries McFly. The answer is 2015, where Marty is needed to momentarily step in for his future son to intercept a specific event – one that will start a chain reaction that ruins his entire family.
During the foray, Marty gets the idea to purchase a sports almanac covering games from 1950-2000, to use for betting. But future Biff (Thomas F. Wilson), Marty’s father’s present-day nemesis, overhears the plan and steals the time machine. When Marty and Brown return to 1985, they discover that a new chain of events has caused an alternate timeline to form – a present where Biff is a ruthless millionaire married to Marty’s mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson). Their only solution is to go back to the past, a very coincidental, important date in 1955 (the same night in the past the first film visited), to once again head off a space-time-continuum-shattering predicament.
The story is incredibly complex, very well arranged and organized, and surprisingly cohesive despite so many jumps in time, the introduction of alternate, coexisting timelines, and the potentially disastrous effects of characters running into their past or future selves (universe-destructing paradoxes). The use of coincidences (a particularly clever plot device forces Marty to frequent an ‘80s café – in the future), similarities between the characters’ actions from one timeline to another, and the overlay of crashing the same parties (at one point there are three versions of Marty in 1955) create many humorous, innovative moments – several of which overlap directly with key events from the first movie. And many of those segments spiral into even further complications that require complicated mending.
More wild-eyed and eccentric than ever, the white-haired, mad-scientist doc unfortunately no longer represents the kookiest character in the film. In a strained effort to make the future appear futuristic, the younger cast becomes a freak show, overacting and enunciating to the point of annoyance. The screenplay means well, but it’s a little hard to digest, especially when the makeup resembles an Eddie Murphy skit. Each actor adopts over-the-top, exaggerated, caricaturized voices, mannerisms, and gaits, and the stunts and action sequences require too much prep time, becoming noticeably lengthy and numbing the flow of comedy and excitement. The humor misses the mark repeatedly, even though the ideas are well intentioned.
Perhaps most confusing of all is Marty’s first return to the present – a new present – where a new present-day Marty should either already exist, or current Marty should become steadily acclimated to the fact that years of existence have occurred with his participation and inclusion. If every timeline exists simultaneously, including ones freshly created, shouldn’t each one have its own matching Marty? Regardless of the innumerable plot holes one could invent (and ripple-effect explanations one could devise), “Back to the Future II” also loses some of its edge when it concludes with a message of continuation like a television episode. The producers would force audiences to wait half a year before seeing how it all ends in “Back to the Future Part III.”
– Mike Massie