When a film becomes an unexpected success, the natural logical next course of action is a sequel regardless if it’s really necessary. “Back to the Future” was one of those rare films that truly warranted a sequel as the possibilities for future installments were limitless.
“Back to the Future II” however is a time-traveling adventure that desperately missed the fun, joyous charm of the original.
Most of the creative talent involved with the first film (save Crispin Glover) returned and the premise of going to the future to prevent a catastrophe leading to further calamity in the time-stream still holds up decades later.
Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) has Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travel to Oct. 21, 2015 to stop Marty’s son from destroying the McFly legacy.
Interestingly, there’s a lot of modern tech the film got right from fingerprint technology, hologram usage, flatscreen TVs and video phone chats. Sadly, still no flying cars, but you can at least buy a hover-less hover board (Back to the Future II Hoverboard Movie Prop Replica).
Screenwriter Bob Gale plays killjoy for fans of the original as we see 2015 Marty and Jennifer are living a fairly miserable life despite having two kids (both played by Fox in a weird move for the daughter especially since the makeup and clothes are an ill fit).
Director Robert Zemeckis who previously tested the limits of existing technology with “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” a year earlier, tackles new challenges in having many of his performers appearing as their older and younger selves on screen at the same time — a technique so common now it hardly seems special, but it was a major accomplishment in 1989.
Were Zemickis to ever go the George Lucas route and release a special enhanced edition of the trilogy, the bulk of his time would be spent here. The effects are in the more futuristic setting to use today’s CGI technology to improve upon stunts and effects he did in a more traditional manner.
Gale raises a welcome moral question for Marty who considers using a 2000 sports almanac to accurately bet on sports games and become filthy rich. Fortunately, longtime McFly family rival Biff (Tom Wilson) has no such hangups and steals Doc’s DeLorean to give his younger self a golden ticket to easy money.
Biff’s time travel spin causes all kinds of problems for Marty and Doc, not the least of which the death of Marty’s father, his mother (Lea Thompson) becoming a drunk floozy and this version Marty is a spineless coward.
You’d understand why Marty would want to try and make things right, but if anything, Gale reinforces the notion that no matter when and what Marty does, the McFly family is destined to be hapless losers.
There’s little to enjoy in the Biff-altered 1985 sequence, which may as well have been called “Days of Back to the Future Past” as it more closely resembles the acclaimed apocalyptic X-Men tale (buy now on Amazon.com = X-Men: Days of Future Past).
While the middle act is a chore to endure, Zemickis neatly sticks the landing in the third act. Marty and Doc return to 1955 while being mindful to avoid their fellow time-traveling versions to recover the almanac and save the McFly future.
For my issues with the inconsistent tone, Fox and Lloyd keep you invested. Lloyd rarely fails to make a “Great Scott!” exclamation funny just from his overblown delivery.Fox is at his charismatic 80s icon peak making Marty a charming, likable lead you want to see succeed despite his occasional lapses in common sense like his silly response whenever he’s called a chicken. And Wilson does an underrated job of making Biff such a jerk that his manure baths are always well-earned payoffs.
“Back to the Future II” takes an unnecessary darker tone that was a poor fit for the series. There’s a lot of fun elements in the film, but you’ll only spend half your time enjoying this inconsistent second chapter.
Fortunately, the superior third film proved there was still a lot of miles left in the DeLorean for greater adventures.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The classic trilogy is on sale today on Blu-Ray at site partner
Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy (Blu-ray + DIGITAL HD)