In the current Dark Age, it’s almost a universal law that any successful IP from before Ground Zero will become fodder for a bastardized remake or insulting sequel. Yesterday’s post showcased Back to the Future as the sole exception to that rule. But did it break the other ironclad Hollywood law which dictates that the sequel is always inferior to the original?
We’ll find out in today’s analysis of Back to the Future Part II.
Contrary to the first movie’s marketing, Robert Zemeckis never intended his hit film to have a sequel. The “To be continued” message at the end started out as a joke hearkening back to pulp adventure serials, much like another 80s mega-franchise. In fact, the story goes that the gag hook for the next movie was the first Michael J. Fox heard of a sequel, and he called his agent right away to make sure he’d be in it.
The studio, however, didn’t get the joke. They greenlighted Back to the Future II without consulting the original creative team. So Zemeckis and Gale found themselves drafted into making a follow up to a story they’d considered finished.
By the pair’s own admission, the process started out bumpy. Their initial idea to have Marty almost prevent his own conception again – this time by traveling to the 60s, when his parents were college radicals – hit some obvious snags. The foremost of which being that George and Lorraine are Silents, not Boomers.
It’s rumored that the studio suit in charge of the picture rejected Zemeckis and Gale’s early draft with the sharp rebuke, “Give me the f***ing script for Back to the Future 2.”
Their solution was to give audiences what every good sequel does: the first movie all over again, and more.
So, after the obligatory jaunt to 2015 mandated by the first movie – wherein Back to the Future II makes a startling number of correct predictions – Doc and Marty are forced to return to 1955. And relive the first movie. But from different angles.
The reason being that Old Biff took the DeLorean for a joyride and gave his younger self enough future information to make a fortune gambling.
And of course, this event creates an alternate timeline in which Biff presides over one of the “Crime Is Legal” meme dystopias Hollywood can’t get enough of during Republican presidencies.
We’ve covered this phenomenon before. But Hollywood’s penchant for depicting societies run by law-and-order Conservatives as scum-ridden hellholes never ceases to amaze.
Meanwhile, here in reality …
And yes, I know that hypocrisy charges have no effect on the Death Cult. Consider it an illustration of the Opposite Rule of Cult Projection.
Biff’s descent from high school bully to murderous gangster isn’t the movie’s only instance of forced characterization. Here’s where we also get Marty’s sudden, violent aversion to accusations of cowardice. In truth, it’s a form of pride, as one of Marty’s ancestors will point out in the next movie. But despite him showing no signs of this vice in Part 1, the writers append it to Marty so they can advance the plot. As a result of this rather cartoonish flaw, he loses some of his boy-next-door authenticity.
That’s not even getting into his purchase of the sports almanac. Despite all of Doc’s warnings, he still obtains future information that could drastically change the timeline. It’s so greedy and stupid as to be out of character.
But one character benefits from the writers’ extra attention. Once again, it’s Doc Brown who forms the movie’s ethical center. With the stakes raised from preventing Marty’s erasure to averting a paradox that could devastate the space-time continuum, Doc rises to the challenge.
This notable exchange between Doc and Marty always stood out to me:
DOC : Don’t worry, Marty. Assuming we succeed in our mission, this alternate 1985 will be changed back into the real 1985, instantaneously transforming around Jennifer and Einie. Jennifer and Einie will be fine, and they will have absolutely no memory of this horrible place.
MARTY : Doc … what if we don’t succeed?
DOC : We must succeed.
That is superhero dialogue from the Doc. And he earns it.
The havoc wreaked with the time machine even makes Doc repent of creating the DeLorean. He proves himself willing to destroy his life’s work for the greater good.
But we won’t find out just how far he’s willing to go … until after another cliff hanger ending that sets up the series’ final installment.
A glitzier but flawed retelling of the original, Back to the Future Part II still has enough heart to cover its warts. Its main, unatoned-for sin is not telling a complete story. But it goes to show that Back to the Future on its worst day beats any Current Year skinsuit on its best day.
For a thrilling vision of the post-future, read my hit mecha mil-sf saga:
Originally published here.