“Back to the Future Part II” Makes No Sense

Here is a very long post about all the problems with Marty McFly’s second adventure.

Universal Pictures


Today is October 21st, 2015, the day that Marty McFly travels to in the future in Back to the Future Part II. It’s #BacktotheFutureDay. To celebrate, I woke up my brother Harry in Los Angeles and forced him to talk about the film with me.

This conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.

Ben Dreyfuss: Today is October 21st, 2015. Happy Back to the Future Day, Harry.

Harry Dreyfuss: Mazel tov.

BD: The internet is going nuts right now with listicles about us not having hoverboards.

HD: We do have hoverboards! They just need huge floors of magnets.

BD: We have “hoverboards,” but they aren’t real hoverboards! They have wheels!

HD: No. They really hover! They just need huge floors of magnets. LOOK IT UP—TONY HAWK DID IT.

BD: OKAY, OKAY, MAYBE AT NASA. But the hoverboards all the teens say they are using have wheels.

HD: Oh yeah, you mean those Segway rip-offs without the handle that everyone drove at Burning Man this year?

BD: OF COURSE THEY WERE AT BURNING MAN.

HD: They looked nuts on acid.

BD: My real problem with Back to the Future 2 is that it really makes no sense.

HD: No movie about time travel makes perfect sense. But this movie has bigger problems as well. Like when they just dump Marty’s girlfriend in an alley.

BD: That is just a questionable thing for a caring boyfriend to do.

HD: Yeah, and not only did he not check the crime rate in 2015, but he also dumped her body right next to a mountain of asbestos.

BD: Hahahaha. Okay, but wait.

HD: I’m serious, look it up.

BD: I haven’t seen this movie in a while. When was the last time you saw it?

HD: It’s been a while, but I have strong memories of it because it was my first favorite franchise after you guys made me feel that it wasn’t okay for me to like Ace Ventura anymore.

BD: We were right then. We are right now. But let’s quickly recap what happens in Back to the Future 2. So, okay, in the beginning of the film Doc comes to Marty and Jennifer in 1985 and tells them that they need to go to 2015 to stop their son from ruining his life.

HD: Yeah. Because he’s a coward? I can’t remember the first plot point.

BD: Their kid is going to be bullied by a 2015 Biff descendant into doing some criminal thing and then he’s going to end up in jail.

HD: They got a lot of stuff right about the future in that movie, and one of them was bullying.

BD: A timeless tradition. But here, right off the bat, there is already a problem. Simply telling Marty and Jennifer about their son’s future mistakes should be enough to change the future. They don’t need to go into the future. Marty and Jennifer can just decide to be better parents.

HD: That’s a humdinger, Ben. I have no argument.

BD: Okay, so then they go into the future and a bunch of things happen, blah blah, including that they spy on their old 2015 selves. But why are their old selves even there? In 2015, the McFly family would be celebrating the 30th anniversary of Marty’s mysterious disappearance.

HD: I mean…celebrating?

BD: Remembering? Lighting a candle?

HD: Wait, let’s get something clear. Marty came BACK. So he didn’t disappear.

BD: So you’re saying that the future takes into account the presumption of Marty’s return to 1985?

HD: Yes. Detective Ben is going too far here.

BD: BUT THEN WHY DOESN’T THE FUTURE TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE FACT THAT THEY FIXED THEIR SON’S LIFE?

HD: Ah well that’s another humdinger.

BD: But wait, wait, this isn’t even my biggest problem.

HD: Lay it on me.

BD: In 2015, Old Biff steals the time machine when Marty and Doc aren’t looking, and he travels to 1955 to give the gambling almanac to young Biff. He then returns to 2015 and puts the time machine back, and Marty and Doc retrieve Jennifer from the asbestos pile and go back to 1985.

HD: Go on.

BD: But when Old Biff goes back to 1955 and gives young Biff the almanac, he should then return to a different 2015. One in which he is a Casino tycoon.

HD: Do you hate movies?

BD: I love movies, but Doc and Marty and Jennifer should be stranded in their 2015!

HD: Look, if we all took issue with these kind of things, none of us would ever be able to like a Christopher Nolan movie.

BD: Christopher Nolan movies also make no sense.

HD: It’s called a fantasy, Ben. Movies are DREAMS. DREAM WITH ME.

BD: But they still have to abide by their own internal logic.

HD: “Have to” would mean that Back to the Future wouldn’t go on to become the beloved franchise that it has. But it did, and you are in your own world of high-horse complaints.

BD: Okay, sure, yes, like the movies are still good and enjoyable. “Have to” was too strong. This is America. People don’t “have to” do anything. This isn’t North Korea.

HD: Exactly. Back to the Future would not fly in North Korea.

BD: But the first Back to the Future actually doesn’t have all these problems, I don’t think. It’s fairly straightforward.

HD: Boy goes back in time. Boy’s mother gets not-okay feelings for son. Son has to redirect feelings toward his utter-loser father played by “Willard.”

BD: Exactly. A story as old as time! It makes perfect sense.

HD: It does. But it’s frankly not as good. Back to the Future Part II even goes BACK to Back to the Future Part I, when Marty goes to 1955 to sneak around his first-part counterpart. It’s so cool!

BD: Okay, okay, okay. So let’s talk about that because I have a problem with that too.

HD: Of course you do.

BD: One of the rules that Doc makes clear from the beginning of this film series is that if one version of a person interacts with another version of themselves from another time, either the universal will implode or they’ll pass out from shock. This happens in Back to the Future 2 when Jennifer sees herself in their 2015 house and they both immediately pass out.

HD: I see your rule. So you’re saying that Marty in Part II should pass out when he sees Marty in Part I?

BD: Probably, but Biff definitely should! Like Old Biff has a whole talk with Young Biff about the future and the gambling almanac!

HD: Yeah, but old biff wouldn’t pass out because he was expecting to see himself. It was his plan.

BD: But young Biff would!

HD: Young Biff is an idiot.

BD: But But but but but but but but but but but but…

HD: Look, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t react well, but then Old Biff does his old curmudgeon act of like, “Shut up, you young idiot, and listen to me,” and it breaks through the space-time continuum rule. Ben, just enjoy the goddamn movie.

BD: BUT YOU JUST HELPED MY POINT. Like when Young Biff first meets Old Biff, he doesn’t believe the old man is really him from the future. Like, maybe the fact that he doesn’t believe him is why he doesn’t immediately pass out. But then Old Biff convinces him! He predicts the sports score! Why doesn’t Young Biff at least pass out then?

HD: Maybe it isn’t a rule that they pass out when they see each other, but Jennifer and her future self are just weak, perhaps due to exposure to asbestos?

BD: HAHAHAHA. Okay, fair point.

HD: But I’ll grant you that you raise some good points, Detective Ben, about the rules of time travel. But I’m going to go ahead and reiterate that no movie about time travel does not raise these issues.

BD: I think I have more than raised questions. I have pointed out undeniable logical flaws.

HD: Yes, indeed, you have. Mostly you’re saying, “Why doesn’t what they eventually do at the end of the film already take effect at the beginning of the film?” But in that case, how could what happens at the end of the film even take place? The beginnings just wouldn’t happen anymore! Then you get stuck in a loop that nobody gets out of!

BD: No! No! My biggest problems are (1) that old Marty and Jennifer are even in the future, since they disappeared in 1985. There is even a shot of loser 1985 Biff running outside of the house and seeing that they’ve disappeared.

HD: They didn’t disappear! They came back, you schmuck.

BD: But remember in the first film? When Doc demos the time machine the first time with Einstein the dog in it? Einstein is gone for a few seconds, and in that time he really is gone. They acknowledge that he is gone. They are making a rule for the universe of the film that when you are gone in time, you are gone.

HD: You are gone until you return and you can set the return time for any time! If you return to “one second after you left,” then that is when you’d come back.

BD: So you’re the person now who is saying that whatever happens in the other times just is inevitable and forgives the temporary displacement.

HD: If I went into the future right now and stayed there for a week, but then came back to the past and set my return for one minute from now, I would only be gone for one minute, Ben.

BD: Sure, but what if in that future week someone stole your time machine and went back to 1990 and convinced our parents not to have you? Then that person took the time machine and traveled back to 2015. They would arrive in a 2015 in which you were never born and you would be stuck in an alternate 2015 with no time machine to get home.

HD: I mean, I don’t think I would even be stuck in an alternate universe. I think I probably would have just disappeared into the abyss we exist in before we’re born.

BD: But the movie makes clear that there are alternate timelines! It’s like the main theory of the film! He draws it on a chalkboard!

HD: Detective, Detective, it’s true that this movie does not follow its own rules okay?! But in order to explore the very serious other points this movie succeeds at making, you have to look past the glaring time travel issues that you just can’t seem to look past.

BD: “Serious points it succeeds at making”??????????? Like WHAT? That bullying hasn’t been totally defeated as a phenomenon?

HD: Like…hoverboards, and the fact that in the future we don’t have waiters, we have robots, and that the 80s are coming back in style, and that if you let one asshole make all the money then the future is going to be all goth and awful.

BD: We still have waiters.

HD: At Chili’s we don’t. We have touch screens.

BD: Chili’s is not the future. Chili’s is an alternate future we need to escape.

HD: I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a Chili’s. But I read that Chili’s has no waiters, and the point of that article was that Back to the Future is coming true.

BD: I was at a sushi restaurant in Canada where you use iPads to order, but there were still waiters to bring you the food, and also the iPads kept screwing up, and to be honest it was terrible.

HD: CVS has you checking out yourself and airports do it too, but right now we’re in a hybrid state of having real people mixed in with robots because the robots are too stupid about HR. But it will get better and then those people will be out on the street.

BD: Okay, okay, I’ll grant you much of that.

HD: AND APPLE STORES JUST LET YOU DO IT WITH AN APP, AND APPLE IS THE FUTURE. ARGUE WITH THAT.

BD: There are Apple Geniuses! The people in the shirts!

HD: Not for long.

BD: We need to talk about a few minor things before we wrap this up. At least one thing that hasn’t come true: Jaws 19.

HD: I told a person yesterday that my dad was in Jaws, which I swear I don’t do very often, and he said, “Is that the one with the shark?” And then I thought the future looks pretty bleak for me if that trump card is going to stop working.

BD: In the Back to the Future Part II version of 2015, no one would have to ask that because they’d still be making more Jaws films.

HD: That sounds like heaven to me.

BD: But, yeah, dear reader, just in case, it is the one with the shark.

HD: And Richard Dreyfuss is the one with the beard who kills the shark and saves the movie.

BD: Jesus Christ, no. Dad doesn’t kill the shark. Roy Schieder kills the shark. I swear to god this whole family hasn’t even seen that movie.

HD: Ben, have you ever considered that you are just the black sheep of the family and that there are good reasons for that? Re: not having love in your heart for Dad and his movies or any movie? He killed the shark.

BD: I hate you.

HD: He. Killed. The. Shark.

BD: Okay, okay, he killed the shark. But let’s get back to Back to the Future Part II. There is no Jaws 19 in the real world. And, like, outside the theater the shark hologram eats Marty McFly, and we don’t really have that sort of thing at theaters now and days either.

HD: I guess in Japan they have whole concerts with just holograms because the cartoon people are so popular that they don’t need performers anymore, and Japan, like Apple, is the future.

BD: “Japan Is the Future Back to the Future 2 Promised”

HD: That resonates with me.

BD: Minus the flying cars and actual hoverboards and Jaws 19 and dehydrated food and shoes that lace themselves and jackets that dry themselves.

HD: Yeah, but they do have gum that makes your sweat smell like roses—I’m considering have some shipped over.

BD: “Japan Is the World of Pure Imagination Willy Wonka Promised”

HD: Hahahaha. I want to move there now.

BD: Okay, this seems like a good place to wrap this up.

HD: I think we settled this. You just hate movies and Back to the Future is the best.

BD: And you’re moving to Japan.