How do you follow a classic film like the first Back to the Future? The simple answer is that you go bigger, bolder and (slightly) more complicated. Not just one travel through time but three. A 30 year future, an 80s dystopia and then back to weave the new story in amongst the old one. It makes for a muddled movie but somehow a very successful one.
A big part of that is the characters. Michael J Fox is as dorky-cool as he was in the first as Marty McFly. He plays the constantly amazed, forever unlucky teenager so well. You are constantly rooting for him to succeed and with every “heavy” a smile can’t help but creep across your face. It works just well enough for you to forget that this movie is supposed to have happened a day after the first and that Fox has aged four noticeable years.
Put him back with Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown and the central pair that made the first movie so successful carry the story through full throttle. Lloyd gets a lot more to do here, being actively involved in at least the first two-thirds and getting to be perfectly heroic in the final act.
Back to the Future’s second part is less known for the characters than the story, or at least one key part of the story. Doc takes Marty and Jennifer (a recast Elisabeth Shue) to the future (21st October 2015 – today!). This is where the film’s imagination comes alive, being just futuristic enough to make you believe it could have been possible.
There isn’t a 30-year-old boy alive that isn’t upset he doesn’t own a hoverboard (more than a flying car to be honest) and there is definitely some anger that a food rehydrator isn’t making dinnertime instant! This film is also the first time product placement is acceptable. A Mattel Hoverboard, coupled with AT&T’s videophone and Texaco’s hovercar filling station are all realistic (even if the first and last are still just a pipedream).
The film doesn’t spend long in the future and from there the movie begins to spin it’s time travel story. The biggest success of the first film was how simple the time travel aspect was, not being too over-complicated with paradoxes and alternate timelines. Part II shuns this and has an alternate 80s with Thomas F Wilson’s Biff on fine form and just as awful as ever (but this time successful). It makes for a slightly more grim story compared to the first but we also get to see the more heroic side of Marty as he takes on his new Step-Dad.
The film comes into it’s own when it is set back in the 1950s again. Considering this movie was made in the late 80s, the way it weaves and integrates this movie with the first one is done very well. With 21st Century eyes you can see the “join” but never so much it jars. The way moments are repeated, past events impact on current ones and the characters dodge, barely-miss and in a notable case hit their present day counterparts is a perfect way to use the time travel device.
This reliance on the danger of time travel can been over-complicated and some of the magic of the first is lost. Part I works so well because of the simplicity of the story and where it leads the characters. This one ties itself into some pretty clear knots, even if the resolution and the way in which moments sort themselves are usually quite clever.
Overall, Back to the Future Part II does a good job of continuing the adventures of the time travelling duo. It has a lot more time travelling, using this element much more to tell an often quite complicated, twisted tale compared to the first. The resolutions are good though and Fox is so good as Marty that you just root for him to succeed. I can’t believe we live in a time when all of Back to the Future is set in the past now though…
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)