Cult Classics: BACK TO THE FUTURE: PART 2 (1989)

The outrageously funny and explosive sequel to the cult hit “Back to the Future” (1985) emerged onto screens four years after its predecessor. The plot picks up exactly where the last film left off, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) has come to warn Marty (Michael J. Fox) and his girlfriend Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) about their children’s future which sets them all off on a new adventure thirty years into the future, the year 2015 (which will occur three years into the future following this review!).

The construction of the film is both clever and unique, it feels episodic as we see Marty encounter different parallel universes, the 1985 he created in the first film, the futuristic 2015, the grim, seedy 1985 where Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) is a powerful millionaire and of course the 1955 that’s depicted also in the first film. The various settings give the film different tones and constantly keeps it fresh, playing around with new ideas and scenarios. To begin with Marty has a mission to prevent his future son from taking part in a robbery orchestrated by Biff’s grandson Griff! He successfully diffuses the situation early on, leaving the audience in anticipation of where the story will lead. Despite a few similar sequences, its not predictable or a direct re-hash like many other Hollywood sequels. A lot of futuristic films of the era did portray the future as a depressing, industrial setting e.g “Bladerunner” (1982) therefore “Back to the Future: Part 2” puts a refreshing spin on the futuristic, science fiction genre by creating an optimistic world of flying cars, hover-boards and 3D movies (that one is actually accurate!) but also holds a sense of nostalgia with the “Cafe 80’s” theme, this is also an accurate depiction especially with the longing for the 90’s decade that’s occurring in recent popular culture.

Marty has fun with the new world, however problems arise when temptation gets the better of him and he comes across a “Sports Almanac” that will ideally make him rich if he returns to 1985 with it! Marty remains the identifiable teenage hero however this does highlight that he does have flaws which creates layers for the character and makes him human and far from perfect, he learns from his mistakes. Before he knows it the Almanac reaches into the wrong hands and the ageing Biff temporarily steals the time machine to enlighten and benefit his younger self, ultimately changing 1985 into a corrupt and dangerous place.  Marty is horrified to discover the dark, underworld version of “Hill/Hell Valley” that’s controlled by Biff. In this universe his father has been brutally murdered, his brother in prison, his sister in debt and his mother a surgically enhanced alcoholic who’s married to Biff! In order to escape this nightmare Marty with the help of Doc must return to 1955, to the night of the lightning storm to prevent Biff changing history forever! This sequence is the most suspenseful part of the film, keeping the audience on edge as Marty makes several attempts to retrieve the sports almanac to no avail while also facing the challenging task of avoiding meeting his past self and altering history once more! On a technical level the sequence is impressive as it uses scenes from the first film accompanied by Marty’s perspective of seeing how he approached his previous adventure. Its a clever metaphor that leaves us questioning, if we had the chance to look back and see how we handled a situation, how would we analyse it and what would we do differently?

Allegedly the director Rob Zemeckis hadn’t planned to make a sequel however box office numbers went through the roof and a sequel was massively anticipated by fans. Hearing this was quite surprising as the conclusion of the first film heavily indicates the story is not over and leaves the audience hanging on for more as the main characters fly off into the distance in the time machine. Zemeckis only agreed to making the film because Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox both agreed to return, and he also teamed up with his screenwriting partner Bob Gale. Several re-writes occured as Zemeckis and Gale had regretted including the character of Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer embarking on the adventure with them, as for continuity purposes they would need to include a storyline for her character when the ideal preference would have been to create something entirely different, her character is still underused. The original actress who portrayed Jennifer did not return for the sequel therefore a shot for shot re-shoot was constructed of the final sequence. Another issue they stumbled upon was Crispin Glover’s reluctance to reprise his role of George McFly due to failure to agree on his overall salary, meaning the use of the character was now limited; hence a brief appearance in the future scene and the implication he had been murdered by Biff in the dystopian 1985.

The plan had been to set the sequel in 1967, this decision was scrapped when Zemeckis decided that the time paradoxes would allow them to travel back to the original’s setting of 1955 to see the story from a new angle; there is still a sense of curiosity to know what the film would have been like if the original script had been translated to screen. Even though the film was released in 1989 it still keeps to the timeline, using 1985 as the present day. The final instalment of the franchise that was released in 1990 that incorporates a Western setting was filmed back to back with this one, there are some hints of what’s to come thrown in throughout such as a clip of Clint Eastwood from “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) which compliments the well thought out continuity and structure of the films.

As a sequel “Back to the Future: Part 2” definitely holds up well to the original. While the 1985 film was wacky, quirky, hilarious and suspenseful, this one has even more of those traits! It takes the concepts, characters and special effects of the first film and ramps them up to a high voltage! The actors were able to stretch themselves in terms of performances particularly Michael J. Fox and Thomas F. Wilson as they go from playing themselves and their relatives at different stages from young to middle-aged to elderly. Thomas F. Wilson’s performance as Biff is perfect movie villain material, he is obnoxious, brutal, and plain nasty but luckily for Marty and the audience not invulnerable!  He represents fear of change, fear of control which Marty must conquer. Marty remains likeable, and the hero we all root for. Doc is once again brilliant and provides constant wacky comedy as well as acting as the wise mentor archetype to Marty. There seems to be more scenes with the two together in this instalment as they directly communicate throughout and share the adventures together, they balance each other out well and prove they need to support each other especially when the stakes are raised!! All the characters are well-written and easy for the audience to become invested in, a great strength and the main attraction for the franchise.

“Back to the Future: Part 2” is an excellent follow up and as close to being just as good as the original as your gonna get! Its an edge of-the-seat adventure, thrill ride that gives so much but still leaves you wanting more!  I’ll now conclude this retrospect review on a fun fact, there is an urban legend surrounding the film where apparently the hover-boards from 2015 were actually real but were not released into the public due to safety issues!

If in three years time 2015 is anything like the depiction in this film it’ll be a fun world to live in!

Hayley Alice Roberts.

For my “Back to the Future” (1985) review, click this link:

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