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Concerned Stranger: Kid, you all right? You need any help?
DustyReviewsSubscriber: There’s only one man who can help me.
::opens link to DustyReviews’ Back to the Future II review::
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis (characters and story), Bob Gale (characters, story, screenplay)
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Tom Wilson, Elisabeth Shue
Release Date: November 22, 1989
Run time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Before I give a lengthy plot synopsis, I want to add a DustyReviews warning to this post. Despite the ludicrous PG rating, there is a surprisingly high amount of adult language throughout the movie. There is also some relatively adult plot points that might not be suitable for young children. If you decide to take my lead and watch the movie, you should not do so with your small kids.
On October 26, 1985, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown arrives unexpectedly in the DeLorean time machine. He persuades Marty McFly and his girlfriend, Jennifer Parker, to travel to the future with him and help their future children, with Biff Tannen witnessing their departure.
They arrive on October 21, 2015, where Doc incapacitates Jennifer electronically leaving her asleep in an alley, explaining that she should not have too much knowledge of future events. He has Marty pose as his son and lookalike Marty Jr. to refuse an offer to participate in a robbery with Biff’s grandson Griff, thus saving Marty Jr. from prison.
Marty switches places with Marty Jr. and refuses Griff’s offer, but Griff goads Marty into a fight, and a subsequent hoverboard chase ensues. Griff and his gang are arrested, saving Marty’s future children. Before rejoining Doc, Marty purchases an almanac containing the results of major sporting events from 1950 to 2000. Doc discovers it and warns Marty about profiting from time travel. Before Doc can adequately dispose of it, they are interrupted by the police, who have found Jennifer incapacitated and are taking her to her 2015 home. They pursue, as does the elderly Biff, who has overheard their conversation and retrieved the discarded almanac.
Jennifer wakes up in her 2015 home and hides from the McFly family. She overhears that her future self’s life with Marty is not what she expected, due to his involvement in an automobile accident. She witnesses Marty being goaded by his co-worker, Douglas Needles, into a shady business deal, resulting in Marty’s firing. Jennifer tries to escape the house but faints after encountering her 2015 self. While Marty and Doc attend to her, Biff steals the time machine to give the almanac to his younger self, then returns to 2015. Marty, Doc, and an unconscious Jennifer return to 1985, unaware of Biff’s actions. They leave Jennifer on her front porch.
The 1985 they return to has changed dramatically, with Biff now one of the country’s wealthiest and most corrupt men. He has turned Hill Valley into a chaotic dystopia, secretly killed Marty’s father, George, on March 15, 1973, forced Marty’s mother, Lorraine, to marry him, and committed Doc to a mental hospital. Doc deduces that old Biff took the time machine to give his younger self the almanac, and Marty learns from the alternate 1985 Biff that he received it on November 12, 1955. Biff tries to kill Marty, but Marty flees and travels to 1955 with Doc.
Marty secretly follows the 1955 Biff and watches him receive the almanac from his 2015 self. Marty then follows him to the high school dance, carefully avoiding interrupting the events from his previous visit. After several fruitless attempts, Marty finally gets the almanac, leaving Biff to crash into a manure truck again.
Marty burns the almanac, nullifying the changes to the timeline that it had caused, as Doc hovers above in the time machine. Before Marty can join him, the DeLorean is struck by lightning and disappears. A Western Union courier arrives immediately after and delivers a letter to Marty; it is from Doc, who tells him that the lightning strike transported him 70 years in the past to 1885.[N 2] Marty races back into town to find the 1955 Doc, who had just helped the earlier Marty to return to 1985. Shocked by Marty’s sudden reappearance, Doc faints.
Back to the Future Part II (1989) is a fun and knowingly-goofy sequel to the tonally somewhat more serious Part 1 from 1985. The sequel doubles down on jokes from the original – including Marty’s pathological aversion to being called a coward, Biff’s psychopathy, and wardrobe silliness more generally. The sequel is not quite as good as the original, but it is still highly entertaining, poking some fun at itself for comedic effect while continuing to deliver some great action scene moments also. The secret sauce of the BttF franchise is its musical score. It’s just… magic. It is possible to suspend disbelief over anything the plot might throw our way when Alan Silvestri optimistic and forward-charging score starts playing.
As I mentioned above, this movie has the absolutely absurd rating of “PG.” This is a PG-13 movie by any rational standard. There is bad language throughout, Biff tries twice to murder Marty (once by gun, another time via vehicular homicide.) At one point in the movie, there’s a prolonged conversation about the breast enlargement done by Lea Thompson’s character, Lorraine. This just isn’t a movie for small kids. I have no idea how they got away with a PG rating here. Anyway…
In the original, Marty did not entirely intend time travel. He was sort of forced into the time machine while fleeing from the terrorists who had just murdered Doc Brown. After he arrived in the past, he then accidentally prevented his parents from getting together. The rest of the film was about undoing that accident to ensure his own eventual birth, and then to get home. The whole experience, and the changes, ended up benefitting Marty’s family. In the sequel, we did not learn the lessons about how time travel is dangerous. Instead, Doc Brown – a more seasoned time traveler now – intentionally seeks to manipulate the future for Marty’s benefit. That’s when everything goes sideways.
Charting our BttF path through two films:
Part 1: 1985 (original version) -> 1955 -> 1985 (improved version)
Part 2: improved 1985 -> 2015 -> hellscape 1985 -> 1955 -> 1885 (Doc goes alone)
We end up with original Marty in 1955 along with the 1955 version of Doc. A 1985 (we think) version of Doc is in 1885.
- Note 1: An alternative version of Marty, from “improved 1985” left from there in a DeLorean at the end of Part 1. We still don’t know where that Marty went or what became of him. The version of Marty from the original 1985 took his place in that improved timeline, though.
- Note 2: The Doc who showed up at the start of Part 2 appears to be the 1985 version of the character. However, it’s worth pointing out that he tells us and shows us that he de-aged himself while in the future. We can’t tell visually how old he actually is. We also know he spent a lot of time in the future (converting the car to fly and be fueled by a “Mr. Fusion.”) It’s at least possible that the Doc we meet to start Part 2 is from a farther distant future, or even from a far distant timeline.
One thing that jumped out at me, regarding Marty’s visit to 2015, is how disappointing the real 2015 was by comparison. Where were the teenager gangs on hoverboards? Where were the flying cars? Where was the in-home fax machine? Where was Jaws 19? (On the other hand, the movie was within one year of nailing the Cubs’ World Series win and ’80s themed bars were definitely a thing.)
Something else that jumped out is that time travel has been completely unfair to the Tannen bloodline. In the original 1985, Biff was hierarchically more powerful than George McFly… just as he had been in 1955. Part 1’s timeline changes to the two families were an anomaly and only temporary. Between the “improved” 1985 and 2015, order to the universe had been restored. The McFlys were down on their luck again and Griff Tannen was back in front of Marty Jr. in the Hill Valley social pecking order. Is the movie making a subtle comment on the inevitability of genetics? Perhaps. By contrast, when Biff was granted the advantages of time travel, he did not squander his life in less than a generation. He became rich and powerful in an enduring way (though admittedly he also became a murderer.) Maybe the lack of fairness was a net positive when we consider Biff’s temperament. Or maybe that’s just a comment on what being super-rich is all about.
Doc Brown might be playing a larger game with respect to timeline manipulation. We can infer from within this film that Doc used the time machine to save Marty’s life on two occasions. When the rich Biff from the hellscape ’85 confronts Marty on the roof of his casino, Marty jumps. How did Doc know where to be to catch him? He probably knew because Marty – or some other version of him – had died on that roof, or by falling from it. Doc also shows up to save Marty again in 1955, when young Biff was chasing him in a tunnel. How did Doc know to be there? Again, the most likely answer is that another version of Marty died in that tunnel. We only saw the version of the timeline wherein Doc went back to save him. If those events are happening off-screen, what else is happening outside our temporal field of view?
It’s also probably worth mentioning that twice, Doc just straight up leaves Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) unconscious and unattended in an unsafe place. He isn’t worried that she might be raped or murdered because he can simply just fix it, if she is. Someone who is so remarkably blasé about a decision like that has probably time-traveled far more than what we have seen on screen.
So what is going on here? In a time travel story, anything is possible. Perhaps the larger and unspoken thing happening in these movies is that Doc Brown is attempting to resolve a time paradox. Maybe he has to arrange the timeline in a particular way to be certain of something important – his own birth, the birth of a loved one, etc. Or maybe it’s just supposed to be fun movie, Dusty, and not taken seriously.
In the present, this film occupies an interesting place in the pop culture and political landscape. For many, “future Biff” appears to bear a striking resemblance to the 45th President of the United States. Apparently, that was not a coincidence. From the WashingtonExaminer:
One of the writers of “Back to the Future: Part II” confirmed Wednesday that the character arc of Biff Tannen was based on none other than Donald Trump.
Bob Gale, who wrote the “Back to the Future” sequel, told the Daily Beast that he had today’s Republican presidential front-runner in mind while writing Biff, who transformed from a bully in the original film to a rich, politically powerful pseudo-dictator of Hill Valley, Calif., in the sequel.
“We thought about it when we made the movie! Are you kidding?” he said when asked if the parallels between Biff and Trump were lost on him or not. “You watch ‘Part II’ again and there’s a scene where Marty confronts Biff in his office and there’s a huge portrait of Biff on the wall behind Biff, and there’s one moment where Biff kind of stands up and he takes exactly the same pose as the portrait? Yeah.”
The Biff of “Part II” owned a 27-story casino, which pales in comparison to Trump’s 37-story Plaza Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. He ended up using his vast wealth and influence to basically rule Hill Valley despite never running for political office.
Biff even encouraged the residents of Hill Valley to call him “America’s greatest living folk hero,” which is vaguely reminiscent of Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
“Yeah,” reiterated Gale. “[Trump is] what we were thinking about.”
This intentional connection to Donald Trump is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, 2015 is both the year that Marty visits “future Biff” and also the year that Donald Trump announced his run for the U.S. Presidency. Second, there is a prominent conspiracy theory surrounding Donald Trump that he is a time traveler. (Yes, seriously.) I won’t go into it, in great detail, but you can watch the video below – LANGUAGE WARNING – if you’re unfamiliar with the theory.
Is this movie something like predictive programming? Perhaps!
Either way, I am a big fan of this franchise and while I think this is my least favorite from the time travel trilogy, I definitely enjoyed it. It’s fun. I enjoyed thinking through the time paradoxes and potential time paradoxes. Obviously (as is evident from this review) I like crafting theories about the plot. I was entertained by watching the characters interact with – and avoid interreacting with – other versions of themselves. The silly age-up costuming was entertaining. The action scenes are good. It holds up pretty well visually. The musical score is iconic. If you haven’t watched the Back to the Future movies in a while, I recommend a re-watch.
Have you seen Back to the Future: Part II? What did you think?