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BttF II

For those of a certain age, the Back to the Future trilogy is a hall-of-mirrors reverie of nostalgia. We were raised on these movies. And for most of our lives, we’ve been counting down to October 21st, 2015: the day when Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly arrives in a neon-spandex utopia of flying cars, hovering skateboards, and rampant ’80s nostalgia. And while we realized long ago that we probably wouldn’t be sporting self-lacing sneakers anytime soon, for most the day swells with significance: where would we be on that impossibly far-away date?

In a stroke of perfect irony, the movie has answered that question for us: we’d be watching Back to the Future Part II. At 4:29pm (the exact moment Marty arrived in 2015) area theaters will host a bevy of screenings. (Since Marty’s trip takes him to Hill Valley, California, the Alamo’s will start at a time-zone appropriate 6:29pm.)

These aren’t great movies by any means. The first—easily the series’ best and most politically troubling—is steeped in Reagan-era materialism and false nostalgia at its most deceptive, all topped with a dash of miscalculated racism: it turns out white people invented rock and roll after all. And while the third is a lark—a riff on Spaghetti Westerns—the second is the most formally problematic.

Still, there’s a lot to like about its acrobatic approach. Appropriate for a movie about time travel and paradoxes, Back to the Future Part II doesn’t so much expand the first movie’s story as double back on it, and the last act is driven by a hyper-clever device: the hero of the original has to make sure the first movie ends the way it’s supposed to. At one point, this involves a literal high-wire act as Part II Marty tries to prevent some thugs from ambushing Marty Part I. The whole thing is a probably too clever by a gigawatt, and Tom F. Wilson’s screeching villain grates through each of his triple roles.

Famously, the movie ended on a cliffhanger followed by a trailer for the third installment. At the time, audiences were apoplectic: did they just buy a ticket for a two-hour trailer? Of course, in the Age of Ultron, this kind of thing has become routine. We may not have hoverboards, but we certainly have franchises. 2015 may not look a lot like Back to the Future‘s glimpse into 2015, but it feels a lot truer—and less comfortable—than we may like.

Back to the Future Part II plays at most area theaters October 21st at 4:29pm and at the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet at 6:29pm.

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