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Back to the Future Part II
1989 - PG - 108 Mins.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Producer: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elizabeth Shue
Review by: John Ulmer
   
"Doc, it's me, it's me, it's Marty!"
"No, it can't be! I just sent you back to the future!"
"I know, I know, you did send me back to the future--but
I'm back! I'm back from the future!"
"...Great Scott!"

"Back to the Future Part II" is the rare sequel, one that lives up to its predecessor but offers something both fresh and original as a plot device. "Back to the Future Part II" is often considered a dark film, but I beg to differ--it may be the darkest of the trilogy, but as a film it is quite bright, and the way it portrays the future is wholly different than the almost standardized look that "Metropolis" and "Blade Runner" invented some odd number of years ago.

Not only that, but it's a great ride, one that gets your adrenaline pumping and your heart racing. It's just as complex and ingenious as the first film, if not more so, because not only does this film touch the surface of the first, it revisits it. I've never, ever seen a film do this before or since, and I'm not sure I want to, because I fear with any other film that this would simply be a way for the director to nod off in his chair and repeat the first film. Not so with "Back to the Future Part II." Robert Zemeckis is in full control, not only letting us revisit the scenes from the first film from a new angle, but also actually adding twists--there are two Marty McFlys running around that night when Marty struggles to get back to 1985.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

All great movies have a great hero, and ours is the 17-year-old teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox). Opposite him is the eccentric and wacky Doc Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd), who, if you recall from the first film, built a time machine out of a DeLorean. Accidentally sent back to 1955 after terrorists shoot Doc, Marty has to find a way back to the future by enlisting the help of Doc Brown's 1955 counterpart--before he even built the time machine. Finally, in the climatic gripper, Marty's time machine was struck by a bolt of lightning via a wire hanging from a metal pole atop the clock tower, sending the required 1.21 giggawatts of electricity into the flux capacitor, and therefore blasting Marty back to 1985.

A day after arriving back from 1955, Marty has finally started to calm down and take in his new life: His parents are happy, his siblings are mature, and his father is a successful author. ("It's like I've always told you, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.) But his adventure is far from over--Doc Brown comes back from the future in his hovering DeLorean and takes Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer (replaced this time around by Elisabeth Shue) to the year 2015, where Marty and Jennifer's son, Marty Jr. (also Fox), is in trouble with Griff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), Biff Tannen's grandson.

Marty Sr. rescues his son for the time being, and when Doc has his back turned, Marty sneaks a sports almanac from an 80s nostalgia store ("This is called a 'Dust Buster.'"). After Doc finds out, he tosses the almanac into a nearby trashcan. Unbeknownst to Doc and Marty, Biff Tannen saw the DeLorean and the sports almanac, and so he steals the time machine and travels back to 1955 with the almanac, giving the pamphlet to his younger self, whom he also finally corrects in regards to his incorrect figures of speech. ("It's 'make like a tree and leave,' you sound like a [darn] fool saying it wrong!")

Doc and Marty get back to 1985 to find it drastically changed. Biff has taken over the city, murdered Marty's father, George (Crispin Glover, who did not appear in this film but later sued Steven Spielberg, the producer, for using archive footage of himself), married his mom, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), and he's become a rich billionaire from the sports almanac he keeps locked away in his own sky-scraper named after himself. The entire town is nothing but a bleak waste, filled with low-lifers. Even Mr. Strickland is equipped with a shotgun in this film. (In one of the film's best scenes, he yells, "Eat lead, slackers!" and fires his gun.)

Marty confronts Biff and he reveals the sacred almanac, then tries to shoot Marty. Marty claims the police will match up the bullet to his gun. "Kid, I own the police! Besides, they couldn't match up the bullet from your old man." Angered and horrified at the outcome of the current state of 1985, Doc and Marty make yet another trip back to 1955. (Marty: "I feel like I was just here yesterday." Doc: "You were!") Their mission is to prevent Old Biff from handing the almanac over to Young Biff, and therefore stopping the new, horrid future from taking its course.

The pure joy of the first film was its lovable characters, mesmerizing time travel complexities, and ingenious plot, but also the little background quirks that Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale threw into the movie. As many times as I have watched the first film, I find that every time I find something new in the background, and sometimes even the foreground. "Back to the Future" may be the most ingenious film I have ever seen, in terms of plot references and wit. Even the quote from George McFly I mentioned earlier, "If you put your mind to it you can accomplish anything," is a direct reference to the fact that Marty, when he traveled back to 1955, inspired George's writing and that quote. (Beforehand George said, "What if people don't like [my writing]? I just don't think I could handle that type of rejection.")

Trying to effectively explain to readers why this movie is good is like when you are asked to explain the meaning of the word and you can't quite place your finger on how to state the meaning. It's on the tip of your tongue, and you sure do know what the word means yourself, but you can't seem to be able to meaningfully explain.

"Back to the Future Part 2" is unexplainable. It must simply be witnessed to be understood. It's a cheery film with a heart, and it also has a brain--something not many films have nowadays. It's a movie that leaves you thinking, not only after watching but also while you're watching. Along with the first film, it's the most complex film (plot-wise) to ever grace the big screen.

"Back to the Future Part II" is on par with "The Godfather Part II" and "The Empire Strikes Back" as the best sequels ever made. Anything the first film was remotely lacking, "Part 2" adds. Everything from the first film, "Part 2" expands upon. (Good evidence of this is the revamped skateboard chase, this time with a hover board, as well as revisiting the past from the first film.) As "Part 1" is a better film in terms of freshness and uniqueness, "Part 2" is mesmerizing and, amazingly, just as good in many ways.

The film is criticized for being a commercial product placement package, but you know what? People who say that missed the point of the film. (Sorry, Rita Kempley.) The film is spoofing itself. The first movie in the series had Marty McFly repeatedly ask for a Pepsi--it pretty much showed Pepsi cans whenever it could (in the kitchen, in Marty's bedroom, posters in the background, etc.)--and so this film sends it all over-the-top. It knows that it is shameless in its ways of promoting Pepsi-Cola products, so what does it do? It effectively makes the whole thing a joke. (Marty walks into a futuristic cafe, which is in the exact location of the diner from the first film in 1955 and the aerobics gym in 1985, and he asks for a Pepsi. Up pops an upside-down glass soda bottle that Marty ponders over.)

This is a scathing social satire, just like the first film. (The irony in the fact that the diner later turned into a workout gym was one of the miniature plot ironies thrown in for good measure, as well as the whole Twin Pines/Lone Pine mall bit--this stuff is all throughout these films!) No, this is not a film about product placement nor convoluted plot twists--it's an adventure film packed with sly humor that the pessimists looking for a way to criticize this movie will interpret as something else.

My only complaint? In both sequels, the wonderful Michael J. Fox, who fit Marty McFly so well, seemed to become a bit more smug and adult from the start. The sequels were filmed four years apart from the first, and Fox definitely looks older than he did in his early twenties when he filmed the original (he also had longer hair here), but whereas Marty gave the impression of a true 80s teenager thrust into the fifties and a world he wasn't used to in the first film, he seems too cocky and eager for adventure here. Perhaps even a bit ignorant. But it's a small complaint, and I still absolutely love Fox's portrayal of Marty, regardless of whether he is smugger. Who knows, after becoming a time-traveler, perhaps one would become more self confident, especially a naive teenager such as Marty.

Christopher Lloyd is more frantic and frenetic than he was in the original, which is a good thing. The wavy and wild gray hair sticks straight up as if he has been struck by a lightning bolt himself, the eyes pop open, staring somewhere into the abyss, and the mouth becomes slightly agape. "Great Scott!" he yells as something catastrophic has happened. He grabs his hair and runs about screaming. We're not sure what's happened at first, but we really don't care, and that's the secret to the Doc Brown character. He's obviously slightly crazy and eccentric, and we love him so much that though his quick scientific mumbo jumbo rattles by unheard by us so quickly, we just smile because we're having fun being worried with him. I doubt very much if Bob Gale had a clue what half the scientific words he wrote for Doc Brown to say even meant--in fact, in the script he spelled the word "giggawatt" incorrectly (did I?), spelling it as "jigawatt." (He and Bob Zemeckis had gone to a science show and heard a speaker pronounce the word with a "J," so they figured that's how it was pronounced and spelled. They were wrong. Hence why Doc Brown pronounces the word incorrectly in the film.) But, like I said, we don't care. In fact, much of the joy comes from the fact that we all believe Doc Brown himself rarely has a clue what he is rambling on about. It's an important element of the character. If he took himself seriously he wouldn't be any fun. No, Lloyd instead creates an empathetic and identifiable character. We get lost with Doc Brown, he doesn't lose us. It's a great trick, and the character would never work without the strong script and excellent portrayal by Chris Lloyd.

If you're looking for action, this is it. If you're looking for comedy, this is it. If you're looking for a twisty adventure, this it it. If you're looking for a film with tons of wit and heart and general uniqueness, this is it. "Back to the Future Part II," just like its predecessor, has everything. The only thing it's lacking is the appreciation it deserves.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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