“Back To The Future Part II” is a paint by numbers or recipe film more than just a film. This has to be done so that that can be done, cook on high for just over two hours and all will be wrapped up. Because it is so focused on covering all bases it forgets the wonder and fun of the original film, and just gets down to business. Watching this film makes you feel like dad just won’t throw the football around with you in the front yard. He’s got work to do.
The sequel picks up immediately where the first film ended with Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) taking Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) and his girlfriend Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) to a very zany looking future in the year 2015, complete with flying cars, “Jaws 19”, no lawyers and opportunities to get a redesign of your body complete with a replacement of your spleen and colon just like Doc explains. When an elderly Biff Tannen gets a hold of a sports encyclopedia, he travels back in time to 1955 to tell his younger self to make bets he can’t lose. Now the future is entirely changed, riddled with crime and Biff in absolute power, worst of all being married to Lorraine Marty’s mom (Lea Thompson, regrettably not given much to do this time around). So Doc and Marty need to travel to 1955 to set things right all over again.
Look, if you were gonna make a sequel to “Back To The Future” this is likely what the script was going to spit out. It’s a watchable film. However, it’s lost the soul of the original installment. It feels like an office project. The comedy is absent. A long sequence shows a middle age Marty in 2015 talking on video phone remotely with his bullying boss and getting fired and fax machines all over the house spit out the message as well. This is supposed to leave me in awe? This is funny?
The second half of the film in 1955 has Marty pursuing Biff the bully while trying to get the sports book back. Biff, played by Thomas F Wilson, is more or less doing the same thing as the first film. Only he’s not the dumb buffoon we laughed at the first time. He doesn’t have George to bully around this time. You realize Biff and George made a perfect comedic pair. That’s missing here. So he bullies some little kids and with extreme harshness tries to kill Marty on several occasions. It’s not so much funny. It’s cruel.
A fun motif (that also carries forward in “Part III”) is that the actors are playing their characters at different ages 30-60 years apart from one another. Fox, Wilson and Shue also play their kids or grandkids. A nerdy Marty Jr is nerdy but not quite funny. Fox is not doing the fantastic humor that Crispin Glover did as George in the first film. He’s just wearing an oversize jacket and wearing his jeans inside out and squeaking his voice. Meh…not funny, just there.
Robert Zemekis’ sequel is just okay. It’s disappointing because he and his collaborator Bob Gale worked so inventively on the first film. The construction is solid. I still love the various transformations of Hill Valley, California. If the film were made today that’d all be done with CGI. I appreciate the texture of the construction of the town’s past, present and future. Each time period allows me to look around and see what’s replaced what and so on. So I’m truly grateful for that.
All and all though, Zemekis and Gale had all the right ideas. They just didn’t have the best execution in mind.