Back to the Future II Plot Summary (Spoilers):
Back to the Future II begins with Marty admiring the fancy truck he returned to the present to find was now his in the first film. Jennifer joins him and the pair share a kiss which is interrupted by the arrival of the DeLorean.
The Doc hops out of the DeLorean and tells Marty that he and Jennifer have to head back to the future with him, because something has gone wrong with their kids. The Doc tosses some garbage into the DeLorean’s new Mr. Fusion and the three of them hop in. Marty warns the Doc that they don’t have enough road to get up to 88 m.p.h. and the Doc replies, “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” Biff exits the house just in time to see the DeLorean fly away.
The DeLorean emerges from time travel in a lane full of flying cars. The Doc explains to Marty that they are now in Hill Valley on October 21, 2015. Jennifer becomes very excited about the prospect of being in the future and starts rattling off questions. The Doc whips out some kind of gadget that puts her to sleep, because he doesn’t want her learning too much about her own future.
The Doc lands the DeLorean and orders Marty to change into some futuristic clothing, which includes a pair of self lacing sneakers and a jacket that adjusts in size to custom fit the wearer. Once Marty has his future duds on, the Doc declares he looks like the spitting image of his future son.
The Doc and Marty stash the still sleeping Jennifer in a pile of garbage and the Doc commands Marty to enter the cafe around the corner in exactly 2 minutes, meet up with a guy named Griff and when Griff asks him if he’s in or if he’s out, to tell Griff that he is out and then return to the alley and meet up with the Doc. The Doc warns Marty to interact with the future world as little as possible and then explains to him that the reason they are doing this is because his son is going to be arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison and his daughter will end up with a 20 year sentence after she tries to break him out. The Doc rushes off to intercept the real Marty Jr. and assures Marty that Jennifer will be safe in the alley for the few minutes until they get back.
Marty heads to the cafe ’80s, where he encounters an elderly version of Biff. Biff tells Marty that his “old man” is a total loser. Griff arrives and immediately jumps on his grandpa Biff for not satisfactorily waxing his car and then hauls Biff out of the cafe, before ordering Marty to wait for him to return.
While Marty is playing a vintage 80’s arcade game, the real Marty Jr. shows up and Marty quickly ducks out of sight. Griff confronts Marty Jr. about the “opportunity” and Marty Jr. tries to back out, saying it sounds dangerous. Griff is not pleased and hurls Marty Jr. over the counter Marty is hiding behind.
Marty tells Jr. to stay down and shut up and when Jr. appears to black out, Marty decides to impersonate him. Marty hops over the counter and tells Griff no. Griff asks Marty if he is “chicken.” Marty responds that “nobody calls me chicken.”
Griff whips out a baseball bat and takes a swing at Marty, but misses. Marty kicks Griff in the nuts and then runs for it. Marty spots some little girls on scooters and decides to pull the same stunt he pulled in the first movie. When he goes to pull the handlebars off, he realizes the board doesn’t have any wheels. He proceeds to rip the handlebars off and sets off on his newly fashioned hover board.
Marty takes off on the hoverboard, but has some trouble controlling it and unfortunately for him, Griff and his gang also have hoverboards. Marty manages to evade Griff’s gang, but runs into trouble when he gets stuck trying to cross over a fountain. His hoverboard won’t work on water, but Griff’s will. Griff closes in on Marty, with his bat at the ready, but Marty leaps into the water as Griff approaches, sending Griff and his gang flying into a plate-glass window. Marty tries to return the hoverboard to the girl he stole it from, but she tells him to keep it, since she has now confiscated Griff’s fancier board.
When Marty sees an announcement that the Cubs have swept Miami in the World Series, a man trying to collect money to save the clock tower muses that he wishes he’d known ahead of time, so he could have put money on the Cubs. This gives Marty an idea. Marty returns to the antique store, where he saw a sports almanac on display, and purchases the book, with the intention of using it to make money by betting on sporting events in the past.
The Doc brings the DeLorean around to the front of the cafe and old Biff remarks that he hasn’t seen one of those in 30 years. When the real Marty Jr. bumps into old Biff on the way out of the cafe, Biff begins to realize something fishy is going on and decides to spy on Marty and Doc.
Doc asks Marty what the heck happened and Marty tells him his kid showed up and all hell broke loose. The Doc surmises that because he used the sleep gadget on Jennifer, it didn’t have enough juice to knock out Marty Jr. for the full hour. Marty picks up the newspaper Doc showed him and notices the front page story has changed from his son being arrested, to Griff and his gang being arrested. The Doc decides that even though their plans got all fouled up, the end result was what they wanted and it’s time to go home.
Marty tosses the hoverboard into the DeLorean, but when he picks up the sports almanac, it falls out of the bag and the Doc spots it. The Doc lectures Marty about how he didn’t invent the time machine for personal gain. When he goes to throw the almanac in the trash, he spots the police picking up the unconscious Jennifer, thinking she’s a passed out addict. The police run her thumbprint and since she doesn’t have any record, decide to just take her home, thinking she is the Jennifer from 2015. The Doc worries that if Jennifer sees her 2015 self, it might create some sort of paradox that could destroy the universe, but then again, it might just cause her to pass out. The Doc throws the almanac in the trash, before leaving with Marty to go retrieve Jennifer. Old Biff, who has been eavesdropping the whole time, fishes the book out of the trash.
The police drop Jennifer at her future home. She tries to get out of the house, but ends up having to hide in the closet when her future daughter and in-laws appear. Jennifer overhears Marty’s mom talking about how Marty loses his cool every time someone calls him chicken and how 30 years ago he ended up in a car accident with a Rolls Royce, because someone called him chicken.
Marty and the Doc arrive in Hilldale and old Biff follows. The Doc tells Marty to wait in the DeLorean, while he goes to get Jennifer. Back at the house, Marty’s mom is explaining to Marty’s daughter, how that car accident causes a chain reaction that sent Marty’s life “straight down the tubes.” Marty leaves the DeLorean to look at a dog walking robot and Old Biff hops in and takes off.
Back at the house, Old Marty gets a phone call from Needles. Needles goads Old Marty into participating in some sort of illegal business activity by calling him chicken. Shortly after Needles gets off the call, Old Marty’s boss appears on-screen and tells Old Marty that he has been terminated.
The Doc shows up and tells Jennifer to meet him at the front door. Jennifer sneaks through the house, as Old Marty sadly noodles on his guitar. Jennifer makes it to the front door without being seen, but when she encounters the older version of herself coming in the door, they both pass out. The Doc collects young Jennifer and drags her out of the house. He summons Marty to the house, as Old Biff returns in the DeLorean, snapping off a piece of his cane as he exits the vehicle.
Marty and the Doc carry Jennifer back to the DeLorean. The Doc tells Marty he has decided to destroy the time machine, because the risks of something catastrophic happening as the result of using it are too high. His only regret is that he’ll never get to visit the Old West.
The Doc and Marty arrive back in 1985 and dump the unconscious Jennifer in the swing in front of her house. The Doc thinks Marty can convince her that it was all just a dream when she wakes up. The Doc drops Marty at his house and then leaves to tear down the time machine. Marty’s house is locked up, so he crawls in through his bedroom window, only to discover a screaming girl in his room. The girl’s father confronts Marty with a baseball bat and tells him to tell the realty company that they won’t be terrorized into selling. Marty flees through the very rundown looking neighborhood. Convinced that he must be in the wrong year, he picks up a newspaper off someone’s porch and verifies that he is in 1985. The house turns out to belong to principle Strickland, who orders Marty off his porch at gunpoint. Strickland claims to have never seen Marty before in his life. Strickland threatens to blow Marty’s nuts off, but is interrupted by a drive-by shooting before he can carry out his threat.
Marty flees from his neighborhood, discovering that a very changed Hill Valley is now dominated by Biff’s Pleasure Palace. Thanks to a bit of automated exposition at the Biff Tannen museum, Marty learns that Biff is now one of the richest men in America, after winning millions of dollars at the racetrack on his 21st birthday and parlaying a winning streak that earned him the nickname “the luckiest man alive” into a business empire. Biff also married Marty’s mom in 1973. Marty freaks out upon learning the news about his mom and casino security knocks him out.
Marty wakes up to his mother’s comforting voice and thinks he just had a bad dream. However, Marty quickly realizes it was no dream. Biff shows up complaining about how much money he has blown on Marty, who he thinks has gotten himself kicked out of another boarding school. Biff insults Marty’s father and then shoves his mother to the floor before punching Marty in the gut. Marty’s mom threatens to leave Biff, but ends up backing down after Biff says he’ll cut her and her kids off and get them all thrown in jail if she does. Marty is stunned that his mother left his father for Biff, but his mother tells him that his father died 12 years ago.
Marty rushes to the cemetery and confirms that his father is dead. The Doc shows up and takes Marty back to his lab, which is a shambles. He shows him a newspaper article which indicates his father was murdered. The Doc explains to Marty that something must have happened in the past to alter the timeline. He then shows Marty the bag and receipt from the sports almanac Marty purchased and the piece of Old Biff’s cane, which the Doc found in the DeLorean. The Doc deduces that Old Biff must have stolen the book and the time machine and then traveled back in time and given the book to his younger self, resulting in Biff’s spectacular winning streak and the changes to the timeline. The Doc tells Marty that this is yet another example of how time travel can be mis-used and that he must destroy the time machine after they straighten the mess they have created out.
Marty suggests they travel back to the future and stop Biff from stealing the time machine, but the Doc vetoes that plan, saying they would be traveling into the future of the alternate timeline, where Biff is corrupt and powerful and the Doc has been committed to a mental institute. Instead, they need to travel to the exact date in the past when young Biff was given the sports almanac. Marty tells the Doc he’ll go ask present day Biff when that day was.
Marty interrupts Biff in the hot tub with a couple of young ladies and tells him they need to discuss the sports almanac. Marty demands to know how, where and when Biff got the book. Biff tells Marty an old man, claiming to be a distant relative, showed up on Nov. 12th, 1955, the same day Marty went back in time in the first film, and gave young Biff the book and the instructions to make his fortune. Biff then cocks a pistol and tells Marty that he was also warned that some day a crazy, wild-eyed scientist or a kid may show up asking about that book. Biff attempts to shoot Marty several times, but he flees the room. When Biff’s thugs pursue Marty through the hotel, he flees to the roof. Biff follows and tells Marty to either jump or be shot. He also confesses to having murdered Marty’s father. Marty jumps off the building and lands on top of the DeLorean. The Doc knocks Biff out with the car door.
The Doc & Marty head back to 1955. Doc orders Marty to head into town and track down Young Biff, but not to interfere with Old Biff giving him the book, otherwise Old Biff may not return to 2015 with the time machine. Once Old Biff is gone, Marty is to get the almanac away from Young Biff by any means necessary. He hands Marty some cash and orders him to get some 1955 clothes and to avoid encountering the other version of himself.
Marty follows Young Biff to his car and while Biff is arguing with the guy from the body shop, Marty hides in the backseat. After taking some time to harass Marty’s mom, Young Biff returns to his car, to discover Old Biff sitting in the front seat. Old Biff drives them to Young Biff’s garage and then hands Young Biff the sports almanac. Young Biff doesn’t believe Old Biff is for real at first, but Old Biff convinces him, by turning on the radio and correctly predicting the improbable outcome of a football game. Old Biff then gives Young Biff the almanac a second time and warns him to keep it secret; keep it safe. He also warns him about the kid and the wild-eyed old man who might come looking for the book. Marty hops out of the car once they leave, only to discover he has been locked in the garage. He uses the walkie-talkie the Doc gave him to radio for help.
Marty is still stuck in the garage when Biff returns to head to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Marty hides in the backseat of Biff’s car again. The Doc arrives to discover Marty gone. Marty radios the Doc to let him know where he is and then pursues Biff into the dance. Marty follows Biff around the dance, trying to find an opportunity to snatch the almanac away from him, but Principal Strickland beats him to the punch. Marty triumphantly retrieves the almanac from the trash when Strickland leaves his office, but much to his dismay, he discovers it’s just a girly mag stuffed inside the dust jacket of the real almanac. Marty radios the Doc in a panic, saying he lost track of Biff, who still has the book. However, when he hears his mother pleading with Biff to turn George loose, he realizes Biff is in the parking lot, about to get layed out by his dad.
Marty approaches the barely conscious Biff and tries to inconspicuously grab the almanac, but when Biff starts to come to, Marty punches him in the face, grabs the book and takes off running, prompting one of the onlookers to accuse him of stealing Biff’s wallet. Marty radios Doc and tells him he has the book and the Doc replies that he’ll meet Marty on the roof on the gym in the DeLorean.
Marty tries to make his way to the roof, but runs into Young Biff’s friends. They chase him into the gym, where he hides under a table. When they spot the other Marty playing Johnny B. Goode on stage, they decide to wait for him to get off stage and jump him. The Marty under the table, radios the Doc and tells him what happened. The Doc tells Marty he has to stop those guys from jumping the other version of Marty, or else he could miss the lightning bolt that sends him back to the future and create a time paradox that could destroy the universe.
Marty climbs into the rigging and drops a bunch of sandbags on Biff’s friends, preventing them from jumping the other Marty. He radios the Doc and tells him everything is cool, but then runs into Young Biff before he can get to the roof. Biff goads Marty into a fight by calling him chicken, but they are interrupted by the other Marty opening the door and knocking the Marty who was about to fight Biff to the ground. Biff spots the almanac in the still dazed Marty’s jacket and grabs it, kicks Marty in the gut a couple of times and then takes off in his car.
Marty meets Doc on the roof and tells him that Biff took off with the almanac. Doc and Marty pursue Biff in the DeLorean. The Doc moves in behind Biff’s car and Marty uses the hover board he kept from 2015 to latch on to the side of Biff’s car. Marty tries to steal the book from Biff’s car, but Biff spots him and a struggle ensues. Marty manages to get the book, but Biff is on the verge of running Marty over with his car, when the Doc shows up and lowers a rope from the DeLorean, allowing Marty to escape. Biff crashes into a truck full of manure, as the DeLorean flies away.
The Doc drops Marty off at the Lyons estates sign. At the Doc’s command, Marty burns the almanac. As the book burns, Marty observes the matchbook he pocketed from Biff’s Pleasure Palace change to one that says Biff’s auto detailing and the newspaper article with the headline “George McFly Murdered” change to “George McFly Honored” and he surmises that they have successfully reverted to the 1985 from the end of the first film. The Doc also sees the article about his being committed change to one about him receiving an award and declares “mission accomplished.”
They decide it’s time to go home, but the DeLorean is struck by lightning and disappears, with the Doc in it. Shortly after the DeLorean disappears, a man emerges from a car behind Marty. He hands Marty a letter and explains he is from Western Union and that they’ve had that letter in their possession for the past 70 years. Marty reads the letter and discovers that the Doc has been living in the year 1885 for 8 months.
Ecstatic to learn the Doc is still alive, Marty rushes back to the 1955 Doc, who has just successfully sent the other Marty back to the future. Marty tells a shocked Doc that he is back from the future and the Doc passes out. The movie ends with a “to be concluded” message.
Back to the Future II Commentary (Spoilers):
I don’t think Back to the Future II was quite as good as the first film, but as far as sequels go, it was better than most. When I first saw the movie back in the ’80s, the best thing about it was the flying cars and all of the wonderment of what seemed like an impossibly far off future in 2015.
Now that 2015 is in the past, it’s fun to spot the technological advances that the movie got right, or at least almost right (video calls, 3D movies, Miami having a baseball team, the 80’s nostalgia fad, drones), the ones that are still a fantasy (flying cars, the Cubs winning the World Series, food hydrators, self-drying clothing) and even the ones that seem quaint, like the widespread use of fax machines.
The movie relies pretty heavily on inside jokes at times, with a lot of the humor coming from the wackiness of having the same sort of scenarios repeat in 1955 and 2015 and then 1955 again. There’s also quite a few gags like the reference to the shocking idea that the Cubs might finally win the World Series in 2015 and the shark still looking fake in Jaws 19.
Even more so than the first movie, the misogynistic attitudes of the ’80s are on full display, with Jennifer being little more than a prop to be unceremoniously dumped off while the men do all the work and Marty’s mother deciding to marry billionaire Biff after her husband dies in the alternate 1985 timeline, as if she had no other option, even though he’s quite obviously abusive and more or less tried to rape her back in 1955. The few women who appear in the first two Back to the Future films don’t have much agency and end up playing the damsel in distress quite a bit. In addition, it’s a bit disturbing the way they have Marty’s mom change so much, not based on changes to her own life, but changes to her husband’s life. In the first film, when George becomes successful as the result of his standing up to Biff in the first alternate 1985, Lorrain also changes from an overweight, heavy-drinker, to a slim, much more put-together version of herself. Similarly, when George is murdered in the second alternate timeline, Lorrain reverts to a heavy-drinking, gold-digger, apparently completely reliant on her abusive husband for financial support and unwilling to stand up to him, even when he physically abuses her and her son. Meanwhile, when Jennifer learn she’s in 2015, she’s instantly obsessed with seeing her wedding photos and such and doesn’t express much interest in learning anything about her future self that doesn’t revolve around her relationship with Marty.
The special effects are definitely showing their age. In addition to the old age makeups still not being very convincing, the flying cars look pretty fake.
In spite of all that, the film is still a fun and nostalgic romp. Griff was too much of a OTT comic book villain for me and the whole “nobody calls me chicken” bit seems silly, but the twists and turns of the plot make for a fun ride and the revelation that Doc was back in the Old West was a fun moment when I saw the movie for the first time as a kid.