Back to the Future Part II (1989)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #6

Getting back was only the beginning.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 108 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 22nd November 1989 (USA)
UK Release: 24th November 1989
First Seen: VHS, c.1991

Stars
Michael J. Fox (Doc Hollywood, The Frighteners)
Christopher Lloyd (Clue, The Pagemaster)
Lea Thompson (Red Dawn, Casual Sex?)
Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future, High Strung)
Elisabeth Shue (Adventures in Babysitting, Leaving Las Vegas)

Director
Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away)

Screenwriter
Bob Gale (1941, Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road)

The Story
Marty and Doc travel forward to 2015 to save Marty’s son from imprisonment, but this allows future-Biff to steal the DeLorean, taking it back to 1955 to allows his younger self to profit from future knowledge. Faced with a nightmare version of 1985, Marty must travel back into the events of the first movie to fix things.

Our Heroes
Michael J. Fox is not only Marty McFly, but older Marty McFly, and his son, Marty McFly Jr., and also… his daughter, Marlene McFly. Just in case you’d forgotten these were comedy movies, I guess. Christopher Lloyd, meanwhile, is the one and only Doc.

Our Villain
It’s Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff again, but this time he’s not just a bully, but someone who — thanks to his meddling in time — represents a threat to Marty’s whole lifestyle. And he’s a right nasty piece of work in the dystopian variant of 1985, too. Still gets covered in excrement, mind.

Best Supporting Character
Spare a thought for Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer. The end of the first film has her getting in the DeLorean with Doc and Marty, because she was there and the ending was never intended to lead to anything (yes, kids, once upon a time movies weren’t made with the assumption there’d be sequels). Come the second film, Zemeckis and Gale were stuck having to integrate her into the story, which they did by… knocking her out early on and leaving her out of it.

Memorable Quote
“The time-traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!” — Doc

Memorable Scene
30 years in the future, they’re still making crappy Jaws sequels. (The irony now is, in the real 2015 we were still getting often-crappy sequels to pretty much every major ’70s/’80s franchise except for Jaws.)

Technical Wizardry
You’ll believe a board can hover. Well, you probably won’t, but some people did. That’s just testament to how well made the sequence is.

Truly Special Effect
Quite apart from the hoverboard, the sequence where they first arrive in 2015 — a ‘road’ of flying cars in a rainy nighttime sky — is a triumph of model work.

Making of
For various reasons (possibly moral, possibly financial) Crispin Glover refused to return as Marty’s father, George McFly. Instead, the filmmakers used outtakes from the first film, as well as an actor wearing prosthetics made from casts of Glover taken for the first film. Glover objected to his likeness being used without permission, sued, and Universal settled out of court. More than that, it led to a change in contract rules at the Screen Actors Guild to stop the same thing happening again. (See also: The Four Musketeers.)

Previously on…
Not only does Part II pick up exactly where the first film ended, it goes back into its events and interacts with them.

Next time…
Part II ends with a huge cliffhanger, leading directly into the series’ final trilogy-forming instalment.

Awards
1 Oscar nomination (Visual Effects)
1 BAFTA (Special Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Special Effects)
3 Saturn nominations (Science Fiction Film, Costumes, Make-Up)

What the Critics Said
“Like its predecessor, Back to the Future Part II does not merely warp time; it twists it, shakes it and stands it on its ear. But as before, the film’s technical brilliance is the least of its appeals. Satirically acute, intricately structured and deftly paced, it is at heart stout, good and untainted by easy sentiment.” — Richard Schickel, TIME

Score: 63%

What the Public Say
“the biggest prediction the film nails is not any one piece of technology, but our reaction to it: indifference met with annoyance of its imperfections. The movie focuses not on what the technology can do, but on what it can’t. The skyway’s jammed. Marty’s hover board doesn’t work on water. The voice-activated home-entrance lights don’t turn on when Jennifer enters. […] What we get is “the future” as “the present.” None of the doom, destruction and dystopia of Blade Runner or The Time Machine. 2015 Hill Valley and 2015 Chicago are just like 1985 Hill Valley and 1985 Chicago, only with cooler stuff.” — Jack M Silverstein, ReadJack.com

Verdict

There are some who consider Back to the Future an all-time classic and think the two sequels are meritless wastes of space. There are others who see them as a complete trilogy of more-or-less equal quality. Considering that ever since I’ve seen them all three parts have existed, it isn’t much surprise I’m one of the latter. Part II may not have the elegant simplicity of the first film, but it still has plenty of original and exciting ideas, not least using the time travel conceit to go back into the first movie. It may not be as good, but it’s a fine adventure in its own right.

#7 will be… wicky wicky wild wild West.