Keeping with the theme of time travel from my review yesterday of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, I thought I would return to that plucky Back to the Future trilogy with Back to the Future Part II (1989). Tomorrow I will be reviewing Back to the Future Part III (1990), and if you know these films you understand that it is somewhat strange to think of them as sequels to one another. After all, they each pick right up where their predecessor left off, thus kind of making all three one long, continuous movie. It even seems purposeful this way. I have not done any research on the matter, but I am guessing that series writer and director Robert Zemeckis did not envision the success of the original, which is why the sequel did not come out for another four years. Adding further credence to the supposition that the trilogy was done as one film is the closing bit just before the credits in Back to the Future Part II. They show basically a preview for Back to the Future Part III, explaining that it will be debuting the following year. I cannot think of another set of films that does the same thing.
Again, Back to the Future Part II picks right up where Back to the Future (1985) left off: Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has returned to 1985 from 1955 to find his home and his girlfriend, Jennifer Parker (Elisabeth Shue, replacing Claudia Wells from the original), better off than he left them. Just as he is about to climb into the sweet pick-up truck of his dreams with Jennifer, Dr. Emmet “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd) shows up in the cinematically famous time traveling DeLorean with a dire warning about Marty and Jennifer’s future. Hence all three get into the vehicle and are whisked away to the year 2015. Once there, Marty is able to prevent his son (also played by Michael J. Fox) from being arrested and going to jail. However, in doing so, Jennifer is left behind and she is taken to her home in the future as the police who pick her up believe she is the 2015 Jennifer. In their adventures in 2015, they also encounter the aged Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), who observes Marty purchasing a sports almanac for the second half of the twentieth century and figures out that Doc and Marty have traveled in time. Thus while Doc and Marty rescue Jennifer from her predicament, Biff manages to steal the DeLorean and the sports almanac, taking them back to the time in 1955 Marty had visited in the first movie and giving the book to his younger self. Unaware that this has taken place (Biff returns the car to exactly where he found it), Doc and Marty return to an extremely altered 1985. With the ability to not lose on a sports bet, Biff has amassed a fortune and has turned Hill Valley into crime ridden, corrupt cesspool with his hotel/casino at the center. Not only that, but apparently Marty’s father is dead and his mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), is now married to Biff. Given the clues left behind by Biff when he took the time machine, and information gathered by Marty, Doc and Marty go back to 1955 to retrieve the sports almanac and out their home back to its proper reality. They manage to do this, but not before the DeLorean is struck by lightning with just Doc in it. Shortly thereafter, a mysterious car appears and a Western Union man (Joe Flaherty) steps out handing Marty a letter. The missive is from Doc, written in the year 1885, explaining what had happened to him. Thus we conclude with Marty finding the 1955 Doc and telling him that things are not yet quite settled.
In the first Back to the Future, Doc is adamant that events should not be altered in any way. And yet in Back to the Future Part II, that is seemingly the impetus that moves the plot along. When it comes to the things that happen to Marty, Doc is strangely lax on his ultimatum, though kudos to him for allowing his scientific mind to feel genuine affection for another to the point of risking the destruction of the space-time continuum (which seems to be a more technical way of saying all of existence, or at least that is the repeated implication throughout all three films). Doc also wishes to keep the time machine simply for scientific purposes and not monetary gain, which explains him telling Marty to dispose of the sports almanac. Yet when things begin to go awry with Jennifer’s encounter with her future self and Biff’s actions, Doc begins to feel that perhaps it is not worth all the trouble. Though this will be a greater lesson in Back to the Future Part III, Back to the Future Part II begins to speak to the lesson of being satisfied with our lives as they are. I am sure I am not alone in having regrets, or things that I wish had turned out differently. Yet that is not how God sees things. No matter how awful a situation, even one in which Biff is basically in charge, everything is an opportunity for God’s graces to abound. There is an interesting moment that speaks to this concept. In the alternate 1985 (let us call it Biff World), when Marty confronts Biff for the first time, with his mother present, his mother initially comes to her son’s defense. When Biff threatens her with never seeing Marty again, she relents. Of course, we might want her to stand up to her monstrous husband, but her first care is for her son, and there is something to be said about that grace, the grace of the love between a mother and child. We will always want control over our lives, but the more we can recognize that true control is God’s alone, the more we can make of all the craziness.
What is funny about Back to the Future Part II, and this is true for each one in the series, is that while they are all quite similar and lead into each other, they can stand alone and make sense independently. Thus I have no problems recommending it even if you have not watched the others, and it is fine to watch with the whole family. There is an extremely mildly suggestive scene with Biff in a hot tub with two women (neither are Lorraine) who do not appear to be wearing any clothes. But nothing is revealed and aside from a swear word or two, the film is really just an exciting adventure film that is ultimately quite satisfying. On a personal note, as a Cubs fan, it is always fun to see them talking about the Northsiders winning the World Series in 2015. Just one year off, but for years that was all we had.