Trilogies are quite peculiar when viewed in retrospect. Especially when, as is the case for "Back to the Future Part II", the storyline is planned out ahead of time for multiple installments. After the success of the outstanding and genre-defining original, director Robert Zemekis sought to complete the story of Marty McFly with a two-part finale that would seamlessly follow on where the original ended. Zemekis, producer Steven Spielberg and writer Bob Gale in essence attempted to produce a singular cohesive story that would unfold over the course of three chapters... one big five-and-a-half- hour movie.
The inherent problem with this clever but mildly flawed tactic is the fact that it can make the individual films a bit less digestible when viewed on their own. Sure, the original is stand-alone enough that it can be enjoyed as a complete experience. But you can't really watch the second or third chapters as individual films... they're too episodic and reliant on one-another. Thankfully, though, the sense of fun urgency and the likable characters still shine through, and make the second part of the "Back to the Future" trilogy a worthy and worthwhile watch. Even if it is a bit too self- indulgent and convoluted at times.
Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) are forced to travel throughout time once again in order correct an error made by Marty's children in the distant future of 2015. However, in a moment of greed, Marty inadvertently triggers a change in his own present time of 1985 and destroys the lives of all he loves- with his father's old nemesis Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) now in charge of Hill Valley and his father murdered. And so, Doc and Marty must once again attempt to save the present by fixing their mistakes on a journey that will take them to the past, the future and beyond!
I think the key issue I have with the film is that of the three installments, "Part II" is by far the most needlessly complex and overstuffed entry, with contrivances and convenience taking charge a bit too often. Things just sort-of happen to manufacture tension and drama, even when they feel tacked on and sometimes superfluous. It's not enough for Marty and Doc to travel to the future for a new adventure... they need to travel to the future, then travel to the present, then travel to the past in order to fix mistakes that they themselves caused and easily could have prevented. It all feels a bit too disjointed and random. It does succeed in some playful and eye- popping world building, but its the result of a self-indulgent and shaky story as Zemekis and Gale pile on weirdness and wackiness simply for the sake of weirdness and wackiness. It's not as refined or cohesive as the original, nor is it as straight-forward and rewarding as the final chapter.
Thankfully, despite my admittedly huge problem with the structure and the narrative, the film still satisfies on the whole thanks to the electrifying and endlessly likable cast and the imagination and entertainment value that Zemekis specializes in. There's a reason that Marty McFly and Doc Brown have become such beloved and recognized heroes in the annals of popular culture. And the absolutely pitch-perfect performances of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are a big part of this. Both light up the screen and compliment each other well, building off of the original and continuing to prove their remarkable chemistry with one another. They really are one of the finest teams in cinematic history. It's also a ton of fun seeing Thomas F. Wilson continue to deliver as that deliciously evil bully Biff, and supporting roles by the likes of Elizabeth Shue are very well cast. Yes, it's a shame there were some shakeups behind the scenes, and the eccentric Crispin Glover is definitely missed. But on the whole? Great jobs from all involved!
And this movie is another prime example of director Robert Zemekis' wild eye for sharp and inspired visual storytelling and his playful sense of tone. The film might suffer for its shaky writing, but it makes up for it with a plethora of high-energy set-pieces and ends up a non-stop visual feast for the eyes. Each timeline presented feels "real" in that delightfully "hyper-real" way that only Hollywood can deliver, and it's a lot of fun seeing how Zemekis breathes life to different eras. His action is flowing and kinetic without relying on cheap tricks or deceptive editing, and some of the chases and fights still take your breath away all these years later. And the film delivers one of the most mind-bending sequences in movie history with a climactic scuffle that blends different eras of time in a wickedly clever manner as past and future meet once again. Suffice to say and without spoiling anything... it'll change the way you see the original!
As it stands, it's hard not to admit that "Back to the Future Part II" is the weakest of the iconic and beloved trilogy. It's wonky and contrived and feels very much like it was written on the fly. But that doesn't make it a bad film. And in fact, it's still pretty good. The cast is as delightful and lovable as always and the story is filled to burst with clever sequences and exciting action set- pieces. And it definitely leaves you hungry for more! I give "Back to the Future Part II" a very decent 7 out of 10. It might be the weakest of the series, but it's still well worth checking out!