It's 2015, Happy New Year. For those floating through a half asleep, vaguely hung over cyberspace existence this week you may have noticed online that this is the year which Doc Brown and Marty visit when they travel to the future in the first sequel to Robert Zemeckis's sci-fi comedy. This is a few months early in terms of that story if you want to nitpick, but there has already been an overload of images relating to incredibly bad '80s versions of future fashion as well as of course the long awaited (but nowhere in sight as yet) hover board from Mattel. Nowhere has gaudy pink plastic been in such demand. But the question has to be are these really great movies or is all the nostalgia overshadowing things a little? The original outing remains a genuine classic thanks to snappy writing, fun characters and that Alan Silvestri soundtrack. It has a special feel to it - something that was a fresh idea in the right hands. But having seen the others less frequently over the years I needed to step back a little, and re-examine how much of the other two entries in this trilogy really hold up.
As the numerals of Part II flash across the screen things immediately come off as slightly awkward. Right out of the gate we have elements that feel out of place - Jennifer being sent to sleep because the writers couldn't think of giving her anything to do, and the neutered car waxing Biff seeing the time machine and talking to himself because they couldn't think of anything new. While it's perfectly fine to think his old self was never completely straightened out, it's an odd thing to have him in such a central role. School muscle head becomes central villain? I get that he was the antagonist but a recurring bad streak so wide is just lazy, and having the guy become so evil instead of growing up is odd. Anyway into the future - and more strange plot decisions. What comes along isn't the adventure the original ending might have promised.
Most will agree that the forced character element of Marty becoming a guy who can't back out of being considered a coward is the worst part here. He was a forward upbeat kind of guy, a musical front man remember? Caring about being called 'yellow' never works and is clearly the result of an imaginative dead end. Just think of what a great spectacle they could have created if the whole movie was in the future with flying cars and wacky outfits. The chase here is fun but they spend too much time in the town square set from Gremlins. The morality lesson about misusing future sports results is depressingly uninspired and remains a missed opportunity. The clever parts about the original, how it played with Marty's expectations with his parents, and the great fish out of water comedy is dropped, which is a shame. Maybe they had more ideas planned with George before Crispin Glover quit, it's not clear. It's never unwatchable and has some fun beats but it's far from great, and by the time they get to the 1950s again it starts to become a setup for a gag they didn't need to go with in the first place.
Taken on it's own, this isn't great, so luckily the third installment is a far better despite never reaching any great heights. It works as a build up at least for some moments. The jumping back and forth is lost in favour of a stronger character based plot about escaping the Wild West, and though some issues remain due to it having to close off loose ends from part two, it's a fresher and simpler experience. One time period and less characters work for it. Some of the charm factor even begins to creep back in, especially when the story changes focus to share time with the Doc and his self professed 'great unknown' outside science - women. Jokes that depend of watching Part II before hand might even work, just a little. And besides all of this the visuals are a welcome change with the finale having some genuine hair raising moments, even if they never get close to that original clock tower ending. It still exists as a sequel nobody had any intention of making from the start, which shows; but in some ways they round off the ending in a way that fits even if that flying train rides the line between cool and really goofy. In a way I guess that sums up a lot of this. Remember, the future is what you make of it - so no lacklustre remakes please.