Everyone loves Back to the Future. The original film premiered in Summer 1985 and became a huge hit with critics and general audiences. It was even the highest-grossing film of that year. So although not originally part of the plan of director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale, sequels were inevitable (the first movie’s ending was just a joke).
Part II is good but it’s easily the weakest of the three. Part III, while not a perfect film overall, does pretty much everything that a conclusion to a film series should do. Let’s take a look (mild spoilers ahead).
Part III is definitely impressive considering there wasn’t even supposed to be a second film. The third movie provides our protagonist Marty McFly with some needed character growth, continuing events from the previous two movies. It also does a nice job with bringing everything from the series full circle.
This movie picks up right where the second one left off with Marty getting back in contact with 1955 Doc after 1985 Doc accidentally gets sent back in time to 1885. After looking at some historical records, they find out that an outlaw named “Mad Dog” Tannen killed Doc sometime after he arrived. So Marty decides he has to go back and save him.
Looking back, the first sequel almost feels more like simply a transition film (II and III were actually filmed back to back). Not a lot of the events in Part II are particularly significant. It’s more of a setup for the third movie. The plot points of Part III, on the other hand, are much more consequential.
The third film features some great development for the two leads. Marty’s growth comes with the film’s solid moral about crafting your own destiny by making smart life decisions. They emphasize this in the film’s final moments, making for a pitch-perfect ending to the trilogy.
In addition to Marty’s growth where he has to learn to stop caring about what bullies think of him, Doc also goes through some change where he learns that there’s more to life than science. He does this through a relationship he forms with a local schoolteacher in the Old West named Clara (Mary Steenburgen). And the chemistry here between Christopher Lloyd and Steenburgen is a treat to watch. You could see them being a real-life couple.
One other aspect where this film succeeds is the way it properly references events from the previous films (mainly the original). My main issue with Part II was the way it over-relied on this aspect as opposed to simply telling its own story.
A large chunk of that movie is a retelling of scenes from the original but just a different time period. The rest is mostly Doc and Marty interacting with the original movie. The third film has its fair share of this, don’t get me wrong. But they do it just the right amount where it feels more like a tribute and less like a rehash. There’s enough difference that it makes it feel more like its own movie. There’s also some great use reincorporation of the things from throughout the series.
Back to the Future Part III gives the viewers a fun old west setting, 100 years in the past. This gives us an interesting conflict when Marty and Doc realize that this period’s lack of technology will make it nearly impossible to use the Delorean to return to 1985, upping the similar stakes from Part I. And the climax this leads to with the train is completely awesome, elevated with some stellar editing, cinematography and of course the classic Alan Silvestri score. The visual and sound effects in this movie are impressive as well, especially for the time. They easily look like effects you could see in a film today.
Overall, Back to the Future Part III is everything you want in a sequel as well as everything you want in a finale. The biggest compliment I can give it is that it’s the kind of conclusion that makes you not want to see a Part IV. Thankfully, Zemeckis and Gale won’t allow it as long as they’re both alive.