Following the commercial and critical success of Back to the Future, director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steven Spielberg began working on two sequels that would be filmed back-to-back. Back to the Future Part II which follows on directly from the original sees Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) back in 1985 when the Doc (Christopher Lloyd) returns from the future with a warning about his children. Together they get in the Delorean time machine (which now flies) and head to 2015 to try and prevent Marty’s son from agreeing to help Griff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) and going to prison.
Having successfully stopped that timeline from occurring, Marty is tempted with Grey’s Sports Almanac, which lists sporting results up to the year 2000, however the old Biff Tannen steals the almanac and the Delorean and travels back to 1955 to give it a younger version of himself, which creates an alternative timeline where Biff is a millionaire. To say that Back to the Future Part II gets a little complicated is an understatement.
The opening of Back to the Future Part II in 2015 allows Zemeckis to create ‘the world of tomorrow’ with references not only to history, but to the original film and even other big films of the time (notice the virtual advert for Jaws 19). There’s the obligatory Ronald Reagan reference, a fun recreation of the skateboard creation scene, but this time it has the endlessly fantastic hover board and there’s even the opportunity for Fox and Wilson to play alternative versions of their characters. The one noticeable missing element, other than Crispin Glover, is the real heart of the original.
In creating two different future worlds and putting so much effort into making the time travel elements make sense, Back to the Future Part II loses the depth of character and the natural story line arc that the original had. In fact Back to the Future Part II is so self-referential and visually and narratively aware of its own history that there is a lack of the emotional engagement that the audience had with moments such as George finally punching Biff or Doc connecting the wire during the lightning strike.
Luckily Zemeckis and Spielberg have at their disposal and much-loved original, a superb cast and enough creation and sense of style to drag Back to the Future Part II back from the brink. While it suffers from being the middle part of a trilogy, Fox and Wilson have far too much fun with their characters not to get whipped up into enjoying it. Plus, seriously, who doesn’t want a hoverboard?