If you were to hop into a time travelling Delorean and zapped ahead fifty or sixty years into the future (while hopefully avoiding your relatives, of course), chances are you still won’t find a more perfect 80’s blockbuster than Back To The Future and Robert Zemeckis’ farcical, sci-fi adventure comedy is one of those movies that somehow remains evergreen no matter how many times you watch it.
Melding flawless comedy performances with a concept so high it would make Cheech & Chong seems like mormons in comparison, Zemeckis takes what could have been a mild, sweet comedy about kid going back and interacting with their parents when they’re the same age as them and turns it in a raucous, rollicking adventure that’s ends up being more nail biting and exciting than the majority of actual action films out there. Get ready, because when this baby gets to 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit…
Teenage hothead Marty McFly has big plans for his life, but he’s also saddled with a crippling fear of failure which probably comes from the fact that his father is something of an immense drip and the rest of his family are a selection of unremarkable screw ups. However, aside from his issues at home and the fact he can’t be on time for school to save his life, Marty’s life is about to get a whole lot more complicated because his friendship with local, eccentric inventor Dr. Emmett Brown means he’s going to get very acquainted with his brand new invention: a time machine built into a 1981 Delorean DMC-11. But after a deadly run in with some Lybian nationalists (Doc Brown had to get plutonium from somewhere), Marty leaps into the Delorean to make a quick getaway – only to find himself blasted from his time in 1985, thirty years back, all the way to 1955 with no way to get back. Worse yet, Marty accidentally interferes with the moment his mother and father first met, meaning that if he doesn’t perform some excruciatingly awkward matchmaking, he’ll soon cease to exist, but it seems that worst case scenarios come in clusters because Lorraine, Marty’s mother, has grown infatuated with her own, time displaced son!
Some much needed hope appears on the horizon on the shape of the 1955 version of Doc Brown who, with Marty’s knowledge of the future, realise that a lightning bolt is due to strike the clock tower in the town square in week’s time which will recharge the Delorean, but only if they time it with split second precision. So with a deadline in place, Marty has to get his parents to date, avoid the fists of local bully Biff Tannen and get his ass back to the future while causing as little damage to the timeline as possible.
In lesser hands, Back To The Future could have deeply annoying with it’s big performances, questionable plotlines and frenetic pace, but under the steady eye of Robert Zemeckis (Romancing The Stone), the movie ends up being a masterclass in ruthlessly deployed, madcap perfection that ends up as one of the all time great, feel good movies ever made.
Much of this is thanks to the fact that most the movie’s manic energy is funneled through the sweaty, histrionic energy of Michael J. Fox’s lead performance who takes a character that, on paper, could come across as a bit of a self obsessed little shit. Yet somehow, Fox takes this kid who is openly dismayed at his own family and whines constantly about not being able to fulfil his dreams and makes him instantly lovable by channelling the exact same nervous energy that Tom Holland’s built an entire career on.
It’s a flawless anchor point for the rest of the cast to take their respective characters and go for broke with Christopher Lloyd’s bug eyed screeching making him instantly one of cinema’s most beloved crackpot scientists. Elsewhere, Lea Thompson fires up those huge, doe eyes of hers to play a much “looser” version of herself than her more conservative, present day version had ever hinted at, Crispin Glover goes full weirdo and yet is still charming as George (“I write stories.”) McFly and Thomas F. Wilson is a legitimately hissable lunkhead as spiteful bully Biff. It’s perfect, they’re perfect and the movie builds on their comically intense performances by piling on the obstacles and having everything hinge on a mercilessly ticking clock that genuinely feels like the movie itself and everyone in it are going to succumb to the world’s most entertaining nervous breakdown at any minute.
However, madcap as the movie may be, it’s also deliriously intelligent (much like Doc Brown, now I come to think of it) as it’s a veritable smorgasbord of cinematic payoff, loading its first act with countless facts, times, dates and set ups for punchlines that all come into play in incredibly satisfying ways throughout the rest of the movie that manage to gloss over some amusingly troubling ramifications. For example, not only does Marty succeed in making sure his parents get together (not to mention inventing the skateboard and rock and roll), but he inadvertently ends up making his parents into completely “better” people, meaning he’s created an existential nightmare where he’ll have to re-learn the events of his own life from scratch, but even some close to the bone (pun intended) incest jokes, Back To The Future is refreshingly unburdened by dealing with any potential issues its break neck plot churns up – no, that’s the job of the writers of Family Guy or Rick & Morty (essentially a gloriously dark version of Back To The Future positively drowning in nihilistic laughs).
If any further proof was needed about how special Back To The Future truly is, consider this: in a time where you can’t move for legacy sequels that’s swept up everyone from Michael Myers to Maverick, Back To The Future will remain refreshingly free of any continuing adventures to complicate possibly one of the few “pure” trilogies that still exist. That’s because Zemeckis has personally blocked every attempt to capitalize on this beloved world of Deloreans, Docs and narrowly avoided sexual deviancy and it’s an example of a dedication all too rare in a business of endless reboots and resurgences.
Rambunctious, witty and beautifully crafted, Back To The Future is one of those rare time travel movies that holds up beautifully as it’s 80’s starting point means that it’s now technically a period piece that can’t date as weirdly as an attempt to realise a future with flying cars and holographic Jaws sequels (sorry BTTF2).
No matter how far into the future someone chooses to sit down and partake in the adventures, they’ll find that its always time for the adventures of Marty, Doc and co.