Back to the Future Part II continues the adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown by going to 2015, back to 1985, and then 1955.
Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale would only return if Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd signed on for a sequel. Things were different in the 1980s because sequels were not a sure thing. Even now, they aren’t a sure thing. Part of it is fans demanding a sequel. Crispin Glover chose not to return and so that basically paves the way for an alternate 1985 where George McFly (Glover) is dead. Jeffrey Weissman replaces Glover in Part II. Claudia Wells also did not return for the film and so Elisabeth Shue takes over as Jennifer. One way that they make it work is reshooting the ending for the beginning of Part II.
This time around, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), and Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) travel to 2015 in order to prevent Marty Jr. from destroying the family’s future. Biff Tannen’s (Thomas F. Wilson) grandson, Griff (Wilson), is also a bully in 2015. Anyway, Biff overhears Marty and Doc discussing their time machine and decides to steal the car and give his younger self the sports almanac. In going back to 1985, some of the scenes are so fricking hysterical (Marty discovering his home is not his home). Other scenes could not be more heartbreaking like when Marty discovers Biff took over his life. Marty and Doc go back to 1955 in order to undo the damage but then everything goes haywire in trying to return to the correct 1985 timeline.
One choice that I don’t like about the film is having Fox play Marty and Jennifer’s daughter, Marlene. Instead of having Fox dress in drag, they could have disguised Shue in the role. Or maybe even find a way to have Lea Thompson play another role. Zemeckis pushes the limits in having Fox play multiple roles in an era before digital filmmaking. This is really the only thing I do not like about the film. Take this away from the film and it would be another perfect film. I grew up on these films and so I never had a negative reception to the movie.
Visually, this film is the biggest challenge in terms of designs because they’re designing it for three different periods. We’re talking production design, costume design, and even hair and makeup. This is mainly because Marty is foolish enough to buy a sports almanac, not knowing that Biff is just waiting in the background. In doing so, Marty, Doc, and Jennifer come back to an alternate 1985 when Biff Tannen is basically Donald Trump. I feel that Biff Tannen has got to be near the top of the list of cinematic villains. There’s no redemption in the man because he’s just a bully. Just don’t bring this up to Thomas F. Wilson! Much like The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, this film is the darkest of the franchise.
In going to the future, the filmmakers hedge their bets in terms of getting things right. Ultimately, they get about half of it right. The Chicago Cubs sadly won the World Series but not until after 2015. Of course, there’s no shortage of easter eggs in the town square. Another Jaws movie and this time, it’s directed by Steven Spielberg’s son, Max! Blink-and-miss it cameos include Billy Zane and Elijah Wood.
There’s enough material for two films that they spent 11 months filming Part II and Part III back to back. Given how close the films take part in terms of days, filming back to back makes the most sense for everyone involved. I’m still impressed that they released the film in the same year that they finished shooting the film. At the same time, the last few weeks saw half the crew finishing one film and the other half working on the final film of the trilogy.
By going back to 1985, we’re seeing the first film again. Zemeckis and company have to recreate the scenes in their entirety but from a different angle. They weren’t always successful in copying the clothing for this portion of the film. Ultimately, there’s still a time travel story that’s different from the first film but not too different in the end.
Back to the Future Part II is not quite the success as the first one but the film is one of the better sequels to come about in franchise filmmaking.
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
SCREENWRITERS: Bob Gale
CAST: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson
Universal released Back to the Future Part II in theaters on November 22, 1989. Grade: 4/5
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