Back to the Future Part III recovers the style, wit and grandiose fantasy elements of the original. The simplicity of plot, and the wide expansiveness of its use of space, are a refreshing change from the convoluted, visually cramped and cluttered second part.
Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly in his time-travelling DeLorean finds himself in the midst of a band of charging Indians in John Ford country, Monument Valley 1885. His mission is to bring back Doc (Christopher Lloyd) before he is shot in the back by Thomas F. Wilson’s hilariously unhinged Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen, an ancestor of McFly’s 20th century nemesis Biff Tannen.
Fox steps into the background of the story and lets Lloyd have the chance to play the romantic lead for a change. Doc’s offbeat romance with Mary Steenburgen’s Clara Clayton, a spinster schoolmarm who shares his passion for Jules Verne, is funny, touching and exhilarating. Their ultimate journey through time gives the plot trajectory an unexpected and entirely satisfying resolution.
The fun of this meta-Western is partly the recognition of elements familiar from genre classics: the dance from My Darling Clementine, the sobering-up concoction from El Dorado, the costume from Fistful of Dollars. Fox reexperiences all this, literally flying through the screen (at an incongruous Monument Valley drive-in) into every Western fan’s dream of being a character in a ‘real’ Western.