Today I watched Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future Part 2 (1989)
Picking up immediately where it’s predecessor left off, Marty McFly and Doc Brown are once again adventuring across time. In the future Marty’s family is in peril and Doc Brown wants to help, taking 80’s present Marty to the distant future of 2015 to lend him a hand. They riff on the first film’s skateboarding sequence with a hoverboard sequence and all seems to be well in hand until Marty decides he wants a keepsake from the future, specifically a sports almanac that he can use to bet on future events. Doc Brown sees the obvious danger in this but future old man Biff, the series antagonist, has been listening in to the time travelling duo’s conversation. While Doc Brown and Marty are busy with wrapping up their future business, old man Biff steals the time machine and the almanac, delivering said almanac to his past self back in the Fifties, before returning the time machine. Marty and Doc Brown don’t notice anything amiss until they get back to the Eighties, where the world has been thrown into dystopian anarchy because of Biff’s ability to make so much money on sports betting. So now Marty and Doc Brown need to fix the present by going back to the Fifties and preventing the almanac from corrupting the timeline any more.
While this film begins in much the same spirit as the original, once the second act twist presents itself the film begins to surface some of the disturbing material that had always been lurking under the surface. Unfortunately I don’t think the film really handles the darker content that well, sure the scenes between Biff and Marty’s mom are disturbing but does that really fit in with the greater work? Frankly I think not, and the tonal shifts in the middle chapter, sandwiched as it is between much more madcap flights of fancy, detract from the work for me. This film is also more complex in it’s plot than the previous entry and that also raises a lot of problems in terms of questioning the time travel plot. The film plays fast and loose with ideas of paradox and as such the plot feels more like an excuse to move between the admittedly great set pieces, instead of a well thought out narrative.
But like I said, those set pieces are really excellent, kicking off with an iconic vision of the future and climaxing with a wonderful hoverboards vs. classic American car chase sequence. And while that dark middle act may be tonally dissonant with the rest of the series, it is still very well constructed and effective in making my skin crawl. The film does have that one big middle chapter problem though where it all just feels a little unsatisfying because of the lack of complete arcs and cliffhanger ending. And yet, with the duo of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd heading up the action, this still manages to be quite an entertaining sit, if not as whole or complete feeling as it’s predecessor. 4/5