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"BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II" (1989) (Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd) (PG)
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Science Fiction/Comedy: A white-haired scientist and his young friend go back in time in the scientist's time machine to 1955 to prevent what's happened in 1985 and what may happen to them in the future.
In a replay of the final minutes of "Back to the Future" (though filmed differently, with Elisabeth Shue replacing Claudia Wells as Jennifer Parker), scientist and inventor Doc Brown (CHRISTOPHER LLOYD) returns to 1985 in his DeLorean time machine to pick up his friend Marty McFly (MICHAEL J. FOX) and Jennifer, and rush to 2015 to stop Marty's son from getting into a situation that will destroy his entire future family.
Successful on that mission, Doc and Marty are thrust into an even more dangerous situation when the 1955-2000 Sports Almanac Marty bought---and Doc put on top of a full garbage can, while telling Marty that he didn't invent the time machine to profit from gambling---is discovered by Biff Tannen (THOMAS F. WILSON), circa 2015, an old man by that time. Biff steals the DeLorean while Doc and Marty are in Hilldale, and goes back to 1955 to give the almanac to himself so that big money can be made from betting correctly on the games. Doc and Marty discover what has happened when they return to a vastly changed Hill Valley in 1985, rundown and poor all over, except for "Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise," which is the only well-kept building in the area, and populated by bikers and other types looking for a good time.
Marty discovers that his mother is married to Biff and his father George was killed, and Doc is under the threat of being committed to a mental institution. So now, they must go back in time to 1955 to try to get the almanac back.
OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Watching "Back to the Future Part II" for the first time in years, I started to like it when Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) arrived in the DeLorean time machine at 2015 Hill Valley for Marty to prevent his future son from being sent to prison and therefore tearing his family apart. All the holograms, and how Pepsi is packaged, and the hoverboards, I could see why my sister pegs it as her favorite out of the entire trilogy.
I started to like it even more when Doc and Marty arrive back in 1985, but it's not the 1985 they left. Because Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), a bully in 1955 and an old man in 2015, stole the DeLorean and went back in time to 1955 to give a valuable sports almanac to his younger self to make tons of money, 1985 is now a living hell for those on the outskirts of "Biff Tannen's Pleasure Paradise." Hill Valley has become a haven for murderers, people who like guns, and thieves. Most of that is only prevalent in brief scenes and by a chalk drawing on the ground, but you can pretty much see that it is from the grim atmosphere all around.
After Marty and Doc suss out all that's happening, Doc explains to Marty that by Biff giving his younger self the almanac, the timeline of the Earth has skewed into an alternate 1985, called "1985-A" or "1985A" depending on whether or not you like dashes. I do. Anyway, Doc's explanation starts to make sense and at the same time, it creates more confusion. But the information given becomes more enlightening as you start to really think about it. It even raises more questions, such as why Old Biff, when he stumbles out of the DeLorean back in 2015, is so sweaty and looks like he's dying. I love it dearly when a film gives so much to think about, that you're even thinking about it long after you've seen it.
And not only that, but because Parts II and III were filmed at the same time, Part II foreshadows events in Part III, especially when the digital readout of where the DeLorean is traveling to, where it is, and where it has been, starts to go haywire and the top part of the readout (traveling to) reads "1885." There's so much wonder wrapped into this 108-minute package.
It's not just the science of time travel that causes this, though. It's the actors too, especially Michael J. Fox and Thomas F. Wilson who are playing entire families. Fox not only plays Marty of the current 1985, but also Marty Sr., Marty Jr. and Marlene McFly, all in 1985, and his Marty from 1955 from the first "Back to the Future" appears in the later portion of the film, in sequences that are cleverly entwined with the events from the first film, and those scenes from the first film are seen from different perspectives. Quite inventive.
Thomas F. Wilson portrays the Biff Tannen of the current 1985 to start, then Old Biff in 2015 as well as Griff, Biff's grandson; then the rich Biff of the alternate 1985, and finally the Biff of 1955. It's fascinating between both Fox and Wilson to watch the lineage of these families and see what traits are common between them. Christopher Lloyd's performance as Doc Brown is a given, brilliant and fun as much as he was in the first "Back to the Future."
Even with all of this good stuff offered, what keeps "Back to the Future Part II" from being as rich in entertainment as the first and third films is the lack of really keeping Doc and Marty center stage. True that they're involved in rectifying a situation that affects them both, but it feels like they're more at the mercy of the plot than they are actually leading it. It doesn't lessen the cerebral impact of the time travel science nor of the sights of the DeLorean, but when the entire trilogy is viewed together, there really feels like there's a piece missing and despite the inventiveness of the plot being wrapped around what happened in the first film, you can't help but notice.
Nevertheless, there's still a lot of excitement in Part II, and at least what's seen as coming in Part III from Part II ties in tight and direct so that you must see Part III right after. Consider Part II a tutorial then, as you'll learn clearly what may befuddle you from watching the first film. You might still have questions, but at least they'll be farther along toward being answered than they were before. And you get a fairly decent adventure out of it too, and fine entertainment value. "Back to the Future Part II" rates a 7 out of 10. (R Aronsky)