Movie Review | Back to the Future Part II
Movie summary: After visiting 2015, Marty McFly must repeat his visit to 1955 to prevent disastrous changes to 1985...without interfering with his first trip. (IMDb)
Back to the Future Part II has always been the weakest of the trilogy for me, although it seems like a lot of other people much prefer this to Part III. The problem I have with this movie is that it never seems to settle on a core story, feeling too loose and ignoring the rules of time travel not just set up in the original, but reiterated here.
The biggest difference to get out of the way is noticeable from the start, with Elisabeth Shue replacing Claudia Wells as Marty's girlfriend, Jennifer. The team behind the movie admitted that they weren't thinking about a sequel when writing the first movie and, as a result, had to write Jennifer out of most of Part II to keep the story concentrated on Marty and Doc.
It was still the Eighties, so making a woman co-lead of an incredibly popular new franchise was probably not high on the studio's list of priorities, but it does feel strange to see Jennifer dumped out of proceedings so easily. I will admit that, despite even more limited screen-time, I did prefer Wells' performance to Shue's but Jennifer should've received better treatment as a character regardless.
The 'future' being 2015 might be funny now, but it feels like a joke at the movie's expense and how ludicrous some of the ideas were when Part II was being made. Although it is worth noting that Griff, Biff's grandson (both roles played by Thomas F Wilson), has a gang of it's own and is noticeably diverse, including a woman and an Asian, unlike his grandfather's all white goons.
Unfortunately, it's still pretty regressive when it comes to gender politics, with Griff knowing he can get to Marty, taking the place of his own son (both roles played by Michael J Fox), and insult his masculinity by claiming he is afraid to 'be a man' and fight. It's an unwelcome character trait for Marty and a black mark against both Part II and Part III as a result.
Despite this flaw, the biggest letdown of this movie is how it threw away the established rules of time travel it had set up. When Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty regroup in the alternate 1985 caused by Biff changing the past, Doc explains that a new timeline was created at that moment and they wouldn't be able to go back to the 2015 they had already visited, because it would be the 2015 of the altered timeline.
So how did 2015 Biff get back to the future so Marty and Doc could return to 1985? Or, when getting ready to go back to 1955 and stop 2015 Biff's plan before he changes things, Doc says that it's okay to leave his dog, Einstein, and Jennifer in the alternate 1985 because the world will change around them once everything is fixed.
So why didn't the world of 2015 change around Marty, Doc and Jennifer when Biff made the change? The first movie could sidestep these kinds of questions because it was the characters that the story was centred on. In Part II, the story is very much about repairing the timelines and trying to fix what has been broken, so these things need to be explained and yet no answers are given.
This is the reason I have always liked Part II the least of the trilogy since first seeing them all: the story sabotages itself by not keeping to its own rules. You can't have a character spell out exactly how time travel works with a diagram if the movie has already completely ignored how it works to even get to that point in the first place!
Fortunately, the character work is still great and the chemistry between Fox and Lloyd is off-the-charts incredible from start to finish, but Marty at least feels like he's lacking the depth and layers there were to him in the first movie. It's nice to see 'present day' Doc get a little more fleshed out though, but it would've been nice if that balancing act had been a little more fine-tuned.
Oh, and one last point regarding Biff Tannen. In Back to the Future, he publicly molests Lorraine, leading to him attempting to rape her by the end of the movie. Here, he becomes flat-out homicidal and attempts to kill Marty in order to get his hands on the book that can change the future in his favour and lead to the alternate 1985 seen in Part II's second act.
It's only thinking about this now that makes it all feel so strange, with Biff effectively getting no punishment for his psychotic actions and the jail time he should have received. 1955 Biff is unquestionably a villain and escaping with his freedom in exchange for a slightly worse life (he still has his own company after all) makes you wonder what the movie was trying to say about men like him.
Back to the Future Part II is a bit of a letdown following on from the incredible first movie, leaning a little too heavily into the sci-fi aspects of the trilogy and relying on a lot of self-referencing regarding the original - almost as if the people making the movie didn't think this could stand on it's own two feet. In all honest, it probably doesn't, but is still a fun film all the same.