Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Film Review: Back to the Future II

What do you think when you think Back to the Future II? Hoverboards? Flying cars? Pizza hydrators? Renowned for its outlandish predictions about life 30 years down the track, Back to the Future Part II sees the Doc and Marty jetting off on another adventure - but this time, their destination is the far-flung future of...2015! 

The first Back to the Future film famously ends with a promise of more adventure to come - "Roads?", Doc Brown scoffs. "Where we're going, we don't need roads", before swiftly converting the DeLorean into a hover-car that zooms into the sky with a burst of light .

Cut to four years later and Back to the Future II picks up directly where the previous film left off; Doc, Marty and Jennifer have arrived in the far-flung future; October 21 2015 to be exact. Yep, that's today. Tasked with preventing the imprisonment of his future son, Marty (and a conveniently out-cold Jennifer) is preoccupied with future family disasters to realise that the 2015 version of Biff Tannen (Thomas F Wilson) hitches a quick ride in the DeLorean back in 1955, giving his past self a Sports Almanac that details results and winners in major sporting event for the last 60 years. When Marty and the Doc return to 1985, they discover that Biff's actions have created a parallel timeline that is vastly different from the version of 1985 they live in. So, to reset the present, they must once more journey to 1955 and prevent young Biff from ever getting his hands on the precious Sports Almanac.

Sound loopy? That's because it is. This middle installment is easily the most convoluted and relies a lot on the audience being able to follow the complex time travel jargon. In fact, it gets so loopy that Doc Brown actually reaches for a chalkboard in the second act and has to draw an illustration that explains parallel timelines, just so that we're all following. This is probably where this second film falls down a little; the first movie is simple(ish), fun and straightforward; Part II is messy, convoluted and hard to follow first time around.

That being said, it's still a film that resides in a special place in the hearts of many. It's been something of a running joke in recent years - looking back at 1989's vision of the future and comparing it to the kind of technology we actually have. I see it as endearing more than anything - I'm sure our predictions of the future today will look silly to anyone in 30 years time.

For me, the scene were Marty steps out into the town square surrounded by all the wacky 2015 technology is as good as this film gets. Zemeckis packs so many gags into this sequence (all whilst mirroring the same scene from the original) that it never fails to make me laugh - the wacky fashion choices (only the 80's could dream up something so silly), the Pepsi bottles, the holographic Jaws 19 advert that swallows Marty whole. Hell, even the fact that they envisioned 'retro 80's' cafes in the future. It certainly makes a change from all those gloomy, apocalyptic futures we keep seeing in cinema, eh?

Anyway, back to the movie. Things get even sketchier when it's we find out that Michael J. Fox isn't just playing his own son, he's also playing his own daughter. Yeah, that's some Eddie Murphy shit right there. It's really silly and almost borders on self-parody. It might seem like harmless fun, but looking back it only hampers the film; I always find myself distracted by the multiple Michael J. Fox's running around and not actually paying attention to the film. Why not just cast some other people in the movie - after all, nobody looks EXACTLY like their father. This isn't sitcom world where you can use doppelgängers as a throwaway gag.

Plus, they had to recast George McFly for this film because Crispin Glover wasn't sold on coming back - in hindsight, they could've just written him out of the film and it wouldn't have mattered. What we're left with is a situation where Glover's replacement - Jeffrey Weissman - is hung upside down and in the background for his scenes so that we can't tell it isn't Glover. The question remains - why even bother? Claudia Wells, who played Jennifer in the first film, also couldn't return and Elizabeth Shue was her replacement - not that it really matters because her character is effectively dumped in an alleyway, and later a porch swing, for the entire film.

Eventually, via an alternate 1985 that is like a crossover between Sons of Anarchy and Mad Max, the duo return to 1955 once again to recover the Sports Almanac. I quite like this section as Marty and the Doc must ensure they don't deviate from their path and change the past even further. The way that Zemeckis splices together the first and second films would've made this a really surreal experience to cinema-goers in 1989.

Finally, I've always liked the ending to this film - the shadowy figure delivering Marty the package in the pouring rain, followed the moment where he runs into town and Doc faints, having just bid farewell to the Marty from the first movie. It's really clever, and it's the kind of cliffhanger than leaves you wanting more.

The Verdict: 7/10

Back to the Future Part II isn't a patch on the original, but the novelty of the 'future' and recrossing paths with the first film make this one loopy extension that has its fair share of interesting ideas and entertaining scenes. Fox is great as Marty, but hit and miss as the dozen other characters he has to play.

Happy Back to the Future Day! What are your thoughts on the second Back to the Future film? Check back tomorrow for my review of the third and final film - until then, why don't you make like a tree, and get out of here.

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