Directed by Robert Zemekis
Sequels can be tricky things. It’s rare when a sequel is as good as the original, it’s extremely rare when it’s better. Most people regard The Godfather part II as being better than The Godfather and they’re right; some people regard Superman II as being better than Superman The Movie, but they’re wrong. The original Back To The Future is a great film, but for me Back To The Future part II just has the edge.
All sequels are a balancing act – they have to give you enough from the first film so as to be familiar, but not too much so as to be just a rehash. At the same time they have to take the characters somewhere new (literally or metaphorically), whilst still staying true to those characters. Back To The Future part II walks this tightrope with aplomb, and what’s more it does it at breakneck speed without missing a single beat. The term rollercoaster is used a lot to describe action/adventure movies, but this is the closest that I’ve come to a film actually being a rollercoaster ride, and I loved it.
So what makes it so good? Well it’s witty, it’s smart and it’s funny. Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd give pitch perfect performances, the direction from Robert Zemekis is spot on and the (pre-digital) special effects are great without overpowering the human elements. But what really sets BTTFII (I can’t keep typing the title in full every time) apart is the script. Bob Gale’s script (based on his and Zemekis’s story) is fun and clever and incredibly densely plotted – at one point Doc Brown uses a blackboard to explain what’s going on, that’s how much plot is packed into this script – but it is so masterfully told that you always know what’s going on and – don’t underestimate this last point – it all makes perfect sense (within the confines of its own universe, of course). It whizzes forwards and backwards in time, from 1985 to 2015 and back again before heading back to 1955, and every move is logical and considered and internally consistent. There are no holes in the plot, no moments where you’re going ‘but hang on…’ that you might find in other, less brilliant fantasy films (you know who you are, The Lord of The Rings).
The stuff in the future is very well done – the hover boards and flying cars – but it’s the stuff in 1955 that really gives this film the edge. It’s the way that the 1955 story in the second half of this film is so effortlessly woven into the events from the first film that pushes this film into extra special territory. The BTTFII Marty has to negotiate the Enchantment Under The Sea dance to recover the sports almanac from 1955 Biff without bumping into BTTF Marty, whilst at the same ensuring that the critical moment from the first film – when his parents-to-be kiss for the first time – happens as planned. Even smaller moments are beautifully executed, such as when the older Doc helps his younger self set up his ‘science experiment’ in the town square (the working title for the film was Paradox, because of this scene and its pair o’ docs – see, even that’s witty and clever and they didn’t use it). Add to that all the references to the original film – Marty waking up in a darkened bedroom, not knowing where he is, with his mother watching over him; the ‘Biff’ character having a run in with a manure truck – and you have a clever and ambitious film that doesn’t insult the intelligence of its audience, and positively rewards fans of the first movie. On the downside you could say it’s just a big in-joke, and in lots of ways it is, but the thing about in-jokes is that if you’re in on them, they’re normally pretty damn funny.
As with all good things, it ends too soon. There are very few films that, after the first viewing, I just wanted to sit down and watch again straight away, but that’s what I wanted to do here. The breathless climax – the parents kiss, the chase between hoverboard and Buick, the almanac is snatched away from Biff’s clutches – is suddenly silenced when DeLorean is struck by lightning and Doc disappears. Zemekis, conducting the audience like a maestro, gives the audience a moment to breathe before bringing in the Western Union man with a mysterious delivery for Marty. It’s a letter, from the Doc, from 1885. Cue a sprint back to the town square to find the 1955 Doc and we’re ready to rush headlong into Back To The Future part III.
Back in 1989 we had to wait six months to find out what happened next and it was a killer; now you can find out straight away just by changing the DVD.