Back to the Future Part II (1989) / Comedy-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG for language, violence, and mild sexuality (I'd rate it PG-13)
Running time: 108 min.
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Elisabeth Shue, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Wiessman, Charles Fleischer, Flea, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Elijah Wood (cameo), Joe Flaherty (cameo)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Bob Gale
Review published May 12, 2005
Generally considered the lesser film of the Back to the Future trilogy, mostly because it is darker and less in fun than the other two, Back to the Future II is nonetheless an intelligent and well-constructed sequel that succeeds with high energy and clever twists and turns. It's also quite confusing to follow for many viewers, as alternate realities, paradoxes, and time traveling theory aren't the sorts of things most people who loved Back to the Future spent a good deal of time exploring in their thoughts while watching it. This also makes it less palatable for children, especially young children, as the vulgar language and moments of violence push the boundaries of what a PG rated movie is allowed to show (in fact, I think it definitely should have been PG-13). However, for more mature audiences, and especially for those into science fiction, Back to the Future Part II fascinates with its interpretation of a possible future, as well as the interesting philosophy behind time travel, striking a more intellectual note than most films marketed as blockbuster family fare.
Part II starts with the end of Part I, although re-shot in order to incorporate the "new" Jennifer, Elisabeth Shue (Underneath, Palmetto). Doc Brown (Lloyd, Star Trek III) has come back with an urgent plea that Marty (Fox, Bright Lights Big City) and Jennifer need to travel to the future, in the year 2015, because something terrible will happen to their family if they don't. There it is revealed that Marty and Jennifer have a son and daughter, Marty Jr. and Marlene (both played by Fox), and that they are in jeopardy, and if Marty Sr. doesn't stop a certain event from happening, the future of the family will be in ruins. Marty saves the day, but it comes at a cost, as Biff Tannen (Wilson, Action Jackson), now quite elderly, sneaks back in the time machine with an almanac of sports statistics. When Marty and Doc travel back to 1985, they find they are in a different reality than the one they remember, where Hill Valley lay in squalor, while the only industry in town happens to be the hotel/casino owned by now billionaire, Biff Tannen. It seems Biff of 2015 traveled to meet the Biff of 1955 to hand off the sports almanac to be used to place bets on all the winners in sports until the end of the century. Marty is shocked to see the world he know destroyed, his father dead, his mother married to Biff(!), and everything in disarray. With little time left, Marty and Doc must find a way to stop these events from ever happening, and return everything to its proper place in 1985 again.
Complexity is sometimes a double-edged sword, as it will lose part of the audience, while also stimulating interest from the other part that likes to think when watching a movie. How much interest you glean from the complicated structure of Part II will likely depend on your personal preference, so I can't guarantee you will like it as much as I do. It's true that the subject matter is darker in tone than the other releases, but the inventiveness and brilliance more than keeps the action moving and story perplexing (in a good way), thanks to a fantastic script from Bob Gale (Interstate 60, Trespass), who keeps the in-jokes and humor in perfect step with the first film.
Some may be disappointed, but not this reviewer. Back to the Future Part II is an intelligent, heady roller coaster ride that takes us back to the story we know from the first film and introduces many new levels of complexity to engage us. It's a daring sequel, and while it doesn't always work, it does deserve respect just for trying to infuse something different into the mix and do so without losing momentum. In the end, it is just a bridge between Part I and Part III, but it gets us to our final destination charged up and ready for the last chapter.
©2005 Vince Leo