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Review: Back to the Future Part II and Episode II

July 8, 2011

Wow, time sure flies when you’re not paying any attention and it’s too dark out to see the sun because of all the thunderstorms.

Anyway, Back to the Future Part II and Episode II: Get Tannen! Honestly, Part II is my absolute favorite of all of the Back to the Future movies. The actors seem more comfortable in their roles, in particular the way Christopher Lloyd really gets a chance to play up Doc Brown and his constant wild gestures. In Part I, Marty was really the focus of the story (what with being trapped thirty years in the past and all), and Doc was really given more of a supporting role relative to Marty. In Part II, Doc and Marty work more as a team, and they’re both on screen for roughly the same amount of time, so it’s really much more of a partnership than a hero-sidekick relationship like Part I.

The storyline’s also been given a kick in the ass. Part I was really about the misadventures of an average teenager (with a hot as hell girlfriend and the fingers of a rock and roll legend, but I digress) who winds up flung into the past and must reunite his parents with the help of his future absent-minded professor friend. Part II is really a lot more character driven, and thus a whole lot darker, showcasing a lot of the dangers of time travel that Part I didn’t really have the scope to mention. Here, Marty’s family is a lot better off (due to his actions in the 50s) but no less screwed up, and by way of Marty’s actions in 2015 and Old Biff’s actions back in the 50s, his life quickly goes to hell, as does the rest of Hill Valley (but I’ll cover that later).

Anyway, I’m sorry for making you read through all that before getting to the actual review, but like I said, I have a history with this series.

Part II picks up exactly where Part I (at least the DVD release) left off. Marty gets up at half past ten after a very hectic week thirty years in the past, to find his life drastically improved. His sister is a hit with the guys, his brother works at an office building instead of Burger King, his parents are in better shape than they ever were in the original timeline, and he has that bitchin’ truck from the start of Part I, and Jennifer is all ready for their date that night. They lean in for a kiss…and Doc shows up in the Delorean, freshly outfitted with a Mr. Fusion (100% reduction in Libyan Terrorists trying to kill you GUARANTEED!) and a hover-conversion (why drive when you can fly?), telling him that he needs Marty to come back with him (“Back where?” “Back to the future!”), and that it’s related to his and Jennifer’s kids. Meanwhile, Jennifer is just looking at this possibly crazy sixty plus year old man talking about her and Marty’s kids at some undetermined point in the future, and she is fucking lost.

So, she manages to squeeze into the passenger seat with Marty (not that much of a challenge, him being 5’4″), and then Marty notices that there isn’t quite enough road to hit 88 (despite Doc doing exactly that at the end of Part I). Doc then drops a line so noteworthy that he was quoted by Ronald Fucking Reagan: “Where we’re going, we don’t need…roads.” And then the Delorean lifts off into the sky and flies through the camera and disappears in a shockwave and flash of light, all with loser!Biff watching. And then the credits roll over stock footage of flying through clouds. The time machine emerges on the wrong side of the skyway, and Doc is forced to dodge a flying taxi, leading Marty to ask the pertinent question when dealing with time travel: “When are we?”

After being informed by Doc that they’ve landed (so to speak) in mid-October, 2015, Marty has the unenviable task of explaining to Jennifer that they’re in a time machine. He handles the problem…less than subtly. She starts asking about her future with Marty and how many kids they have, and where they got married, at which point Doc pulls out a little MacGuffin called an Alpha-rhythm generator and puts her to sleep. Marty asks why the hell he brought her along in the first place, and he tells Marty that Jennifer saw the time machine, and he couldn’t leave her in the 80s with that information. They land in an alley near the courthouse where Doc instructs Marty get changed, but fails to notice that rain is still coming down in sheets. Thankfully, due to the hyper-efficient weather service, Doc knows exactly when the rain will end.

Doc begins to tear off his latex mask, presumably so that they wouldn’t have to keep putting it on every day, and masks it with a story about an all-natural overhaul. He instructs Marty to put on a size adjusting jacket and shoes with power laces, while he goes to confirm the real Marty Jr’s location. Doc tells Marty to go into the Cafe 80s, order a Pepsi, wait for Griff, and tell him that he isn’t interested in his little moneymaking scheme. When Marty asks how all this relates to his kids, Doc shows him tomorrow’s newspaper, the headline showing Marty Jr. being arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to fifteen years for theft in the span of two hours, due to the abolition of lawyers sometime in the next four years. And a week later, his daughter Marlene tries to break Marty Jr. out, and is sentenced to twenty years.

Marty exits the alley and begins marveling at the technological wonders, such as sleek flying cars, the courthouse-turned-mall, the automated robotic Texaco, and of course, Jaws 19 (in holographic 3D, despite the protests of Spoony and Angry Joe). Eventually, he wanders into the Cafe 80s, which features 80s notables Ronald Reagan, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Michael Jackson rendered Max Headroom-style as waiters. He orders a Pepsi Perfect, and is told in no uncertain terms by Old Biff that he is a complete loser by his mid-forties. See, Biff is still the asshole that he was back in 1955 (and unaltered 1985), and since he’s an old man now, he no longer cares what the McFly’s think. Marty is then saved from Biff’s rambling by Griff, Biff’s equally jerkass grandson, who lambasts him for neglecting the second coat of wax on his car. Griff is actually slightly worse than Biff, what with the defective, possibly black market cybernetic implants that are never touched on again in the whole movie.

While Marty is caught up in the nostalgia brought on by Wild Gunman, the real Marty Jr. shows up, and after a pre-punch-George-McFly strength refusal, is thrown over the bar by Griff and his gang. Marty, whose been hiding behind the bar since his son entered, stands up and takes his place, and manages to pick a fight with the Tannen of the era in that same building. It’s a recurring theme, like all Tannens falling for the old “What the hell is that?!” line at least once, if not more. He escapes by “borrowing” a hoverboard and pulling the handles off, and then manages to ride it out to the middle of the courthouse mall fountain before being told that “those boards don’t work on water”. Griff, cronies tethered to his board, comes at Marty with an extended bat, completely failing to take into account Marty’s ingenious plan to jump into the water. The force of his swing sends them all spiraling into the courthouse facade, at which point they are all arrested for destruction of public property, and can’t force Marty Jr. along on their planned heist.

After seeing news that the Cubs have swept Miami to win the world series, Marty comes up with an idea that anyone who has ever thought about time travel has come up with. He heads to a vintage shop near the cafe and picks up a book: Gray’s Sports Almanac, containing the outcomes of all sporting events from 1950 to 2000. Old Biff sees the Delorean pull over for a landing and remarks to no one in particular that he hasn’t seen a flying Delorean in thirty years. And then Marty Jr bumps into Biff, and he starts putting the pieces together. Doc finally notices the courthouse and Marty’s assessment of “My kid showed up, all hell broke loose” only makes him more upset. Until Marty notices that the headline changes from “Youth Jailed” to “Gang Jailed”. Doc decides that this is close enough, and gets ready to pick up Jennifer and go back to 1985.

Unfortunately, he’s halted in his tracks by Gray’s Sports Almanac slipping from the bag and landing at his feet. Marty tries to play it off as a souvenir of 2015, but Doc immediately sees through him. He explains that he didn’t invent the time machine for gambling, but for a clearer perspective on history, and is about to throw the book in a robotic trash can when he sees the police ID-ing Jennifer by her thumbprint and mistaking her for  2015!Jennifer. Marty suggests stopping them, but Doc stops him in the belief that any attempt to explain their situation would get them committed to an insane asylum. The police decide to just take her home, where it occurs to Doc that her meeting her future self could cause a time paradox that could potentially destroy the universe, or it could simply put her into shock. They leave to go track down Jennifer, with Doc throwing away the almanac. Unfortunately, Biff heard everything they said. He knows they have a time machine, and now he has fifty years worth of sports to bet on.

And then there’s an extended scene with Jennifer hiding from her future family, including Lorraine and George showing up with a dehydrated pizza (half pepperoni, half onions and green peppers, which is an old standard in my family), and revealing that Marty’s life is in it’s screwed up state because of a car crash with a Rolls Royce. Biff follows and subsequently steals the time machine, giving 1955!Biff the almanac, essentially making himself a rich, powerful sociopath, and turning Hill Valley into a dystopian hellhole. You’re really not missing much by me glossing over this part of the movie in particular. It’s only relevant for Part III, and I can always refer back to it next week.

What? Hey, if the characters in the movie are going to gloss over this part, then so am I.

Jennifer does in fact encounter her future self, but as predicted by Doc, she goes into shock and passes out, sliding against the open door into his arms. With the main characters back in the Delorean, Doc takes them back to 1985, confirmed rather shockingly by a close call with a passenger jet. He drives back to Jennifer’s house and tells Marty to put her in the porch swing, explaining that the disorientation should help him convince her that it was all a dream. Doc drops Marty back at his house and proceeds to the lab in order to dismantle the Delorean. Marty hops over the fence to the back yard and climbs in the window to his room, landing on a sleeping black girl. This is the first clue that something has gone awry here. Other clues are the wrecked cars on the street, biker gangs downtown, and the courthouse replaced by Biff Tannen’s Pleasure Paradise Casino & Hotel.

Marty confirms the date by checking a newspaper on the stoop of VP Strickland. Only we’re not entirely sure what exactly he does for a living anymore, because the high school burned down six years ago. One thing that is certain is that he is armed to the teeth. He dives inside during a drive-by, and then comes charging out, firing his shotgun at the car. He makes his way downtown, which has become a haven for sleeze of all kinds, from pornography to gambling to toxic waste reclamation. And in the center of the shitstorm, conducting it as one would conduct an opera, is Biff Tannen, the most powerful man in Hill Valley, higher than the law, and married to Lorraine, who stays with him only because of Marty, Dave, and Linda. Well, that’s not entirely correct; It’s not so much that she’s staying, it’s that he threatens to do things if she leaves, like having Dave’s probation revoked, or having Linda’s credit cards canceled. After Biff leaves, Marty asks Lorraine about George, and she tells him that George has been in the same place for twelve years…Oak Park Cemetery.

Marty runs to the cemetery to find his father’s grave, and goes into shock when he does, only coming out when Doc shows up. They go back to the lab, which is in shambles, and Doc explains the circumstances of George’s death and how they came back to Alternate 1985 instead of to their own timeline. The explanation also serves as a handy explanation of the dangers of time travel, showing how one malicious jump can royally fuck things up. Marty suggests that they travel to the future, but that idea is quickly shot down by Doc, explaining that if they travel into the future from the alternate timeline, it will be the future of the alternate timeline, where Biff has corrupted Hill Valley and married Lorraine, and had Doc Brown committed to a mental hospital. In order to set the timeline right, they need to know the exact circumstances in which 1955!Biff got the book; How, where, and when. Marty decides to just ask him, approaching him at his most vulnerable: in a hot tub with two bimbos watching A Fistful of Dollars. Trust me, Part III is one big were-you-paying-attention-to-Part-II test.

Marty’s direct approach doesn’t exactly go well, although Biff does tell him the date, despite Old Biff warning him about “a kid or a wild-eyed scientist” asking about it. Say it with me everyone! DUMBASS! Of course, Marty gets away by exploiting the old what-the-hell-is-that trick, which all Tannens fall for at least once, as previously stated. He ducks into a stairwell to get away from Biff’s goons and makes his way to the roof. Tannen gives him a choice: jump, or get shot. In the end, Marty takes a look back over the edge, and steps off…and then slowly rises back up because he’s standing on top of a motherfucking flying Delorean! Doc knocks Biff out with the driver’s side door, Marty gets in, and they go back to November 12, 1955 again. Doc lands behind the Lyons Estates sign from Part I, and warns Marty not to run into his other self. This is one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie, because it’s Doc at his most active. He’s running up and down the street as if he’s trying to show Marty how he pictures all of this in his head, while Marty struggles to catch up to him. “There are now two of me here, and there are two of you here. The other me, is the Doctor Emmett Brown, from 1955! The other me, that helps, the other you, get back to, 1985! You remember the lightning bolt at the clock tower? That event doesn’t happen until tonight, so you must be very careful not to run into your other self.”

Doc gives Marty some cash and tells him to get some fifties clothes. “Something inconspicuous!” And then we cut to Marty in a black leather jacket, black fedora, and black sunglasses. Yeah. Real inconspicuous. He’s staking out the only listing for Tannen in the phone book, but it looks like an old lady’s house rather than Biff’s. As it turns out, Biff lives with his grandmother. On the way to get his car, Biff takes great pains to remind us just how much of an asshole he really is, like throwing a kid’s ball on the roof, or trying to look up Lorraine’s skirt. Speaking of him picking up his car, one of the funny background signs is in the window of a travel agency, advertising “10 days in Cuba”, which gets a chucke post-embargo. Biff is upset with Terry the mechanic about the bill, which comes to $300 for removing dents and horse manure. They go in to negotiate, which gives Marty just enough time to hop in the back and conceal himself, unfortunately taking several cans of motor oil to the crotch. Biff sees Lorraine picking up a dress for the dance, and decides that he hasn’t been enough of a dick for one day. When he comes back, Old Biff is in the driver’s seat, drives him home, and gives him the book.

Biff locks Marty in the garage without knowing it, and and heads off, presumably to be a huge dick to someone. Marty calls Doc to have him bring over the Delorean to get him out, but Doc isn’t willing to risk taking the Delorean out in daylight. Marty is forced to hide out in the garage until Biff heads to the dance. Marty tags along in Biff’s car, because really what other option does he have? Just as Biff is leaving, he passes Doc on a bike, there to rescue Marty from the garage. Doc reminds Marty that he must not run into his other self at the dance, and is immediately noticed by his other self, working on the cable for the clock tower finale, even handing him a 3/4 inch wrench. Biff arrives at the dance and takes the book with him. So much for Marty’s easy grab. He follows Biff inside where he sees one of Biff’s gang spiking the punch, and follows them outside, overhearing Biff send his gang after his other self. He jumps over a railing behind Biff who is leaning on the stairwell reading a pornographic magazine. He reaches up to grab the almanac from Biff’s back pocket, and he would have had it if it weren’t for Strickland interrupting. Strickland confiscates the almanac, and heads off through the parking lot, Marty following behind…until he gets to Lorraine and his other self in Doc’s Packard. He manages to sneak past himself and follows Strickland to his office, where he sees him pour himself a cup of liquor and begins thumbing through the magazine.

Strickland turns to look at something in the parking lot, and Marty makes his move! He reaches up from under the desk to grab the almanac, and has his hand crushed by Strickland leaning back in his chair! Strickland leaves and throws the book away on his way out of his office. Marty grabs the book, only to realize that it’s only the cover, wrapped around a copy of Oh La La. He calls Doc on the radio, telling him that he screwed up, and that he has no idea where Biff is. And then he looks outside and sees that George is about to deck Biff. He rushes outside, seeing George prove to us all that Biff has a glass jaw. He then runs over to the woozy Biff, claiming to know CPR. When Biff starts to come to, Marty punches him in the face, grabs the book, and runs, prompting the commentary track to mention that no, that is not CPR. Marty calls up Doc and tells him that he has the book and to get to the roof as soon as he can. He turns the corner and runs straight into Biff’s gang, and bowls them over wit another what-the-hell-is-that trick. The gang follows him into the dance, bursting in right as his other self finishes playing Earth Angel. The idiots mistake the Marty on stage for the Marty that they were chasing, and decide to jump him as soon as he gets off stage. Marty radios Doc to ask for advice, with Doc explaining that if the Marty on stage misses the lightning bolt at the clock tower, it’ll cause a major paradox, and that he has to stop Biff’s goons without being seen by his other self or his parents.

Marty, that is the Marty who came from Alternate 1985, heads backstage, climbs up on the lighting, and drops roughly two hundred pounds of sandbags on their heads. Meanwhile, Biff is awake and waiting for Marty on the way out. Marty is about to leave, when Biff goads him back by calling him chicken. And then the other Marty runs through the door, knocking future!Marty right on his ass. Biff gives him a few kicks in the ribs and takes the almanac back. He tells Doc that Biff took the book and headed toward the tunnel. Doc lowers Marty behind Biff, and Marty steals the book back, being picked up by a pennant flag rope that got caught on the Delorean, and causing the pursuing Biff to crash into another manure truck. Doc sets him down by the Lyons Estates sign, and he burns the book with a matchbook from Biff’s Pleasure Paradise. He checks the newspaper and sees that not only is George still alive, but he’s also been given an award on a particularly slow news day. Doc’s newspaper also changes, to a story about him being commended for his work on another slow news day. Finally, the matchbook cover changes, from Biff’s Pleasure Paradise to Biff’s Auto Detailing. The Delorean gets caught up in the storm and is struck by lightning, sending it back to New Year’s Day 1885. Shortly after, Marty gets a letter from Doc, one that Western Union has been holding for the past seventy years, two months, and twelve days, informing him that he’s alive and well and living in the old west, and telling him to have his other self help him get back to 1985. We cut to the clock tower scene from the end of Part I, and after that, Marty comes in and sends Doc into shock.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Picking up from the last review on Episode II, Doc and Marty have to go back to August of 1931, dealing with the trigger-happy Tannen, and his gang of goons, hyper-prohibitionist Edna Strickland, and the ever-present risk of Doc running into his younger self. Through a little bit of trickery, Marty convinces Kid Tannen’s moll Trixie Trotter to turn on him, and gets Officer Danny Parker in the mood to do his job after losing both Marty and Doc two months earlier, being demoted, and losing his girlfriend and Jennifer’s future grandmother. Marty, by virtue of being in the right place at the right time saves Edna from Kid, and then saves Emmett from Kid after he runs off, trapping him in Emmett’s experimental rocket car, from which Doc rather unceremoniously dumps him in a manure truck. Doc and Marty get ready to head home, while Emmett and Edna decide to take in a movie…until Edna decides not to. This alters the future considerably, with Hill Valley becoming an oppressive police state in Episode III.

Again, Telltale absolutely knows what they’re doing with this series, and Episode II is very good, a lot of fun, and magnificently acted, and even manages to break the cardinal rule about movie tie-in games: they suck, especially when made twenty years after the fact. Well, this is twenty-five years later, and it  is awesome.

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