In a year that’s presented unprecedented challenges for the movie industry, it’s painfully accurate to say that Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan are not the heroes we deserve, but they are the ones we need right now. With emotions running hot and global anxiety at an all-time high, it’s comforting to return to a simpler time, when modern entertainment demands like consistent time travel rules and discernible fantasy lore weren’t seen as a big deal. This devil-may-care attitude about the integrity of the timeline, and the mental depths of its lead duo, brought us one of the most entertaining cult classic sci-fi comedies of all time, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, along with its equally strong sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, at the turn of the 90’s. That was a very long time ago though, and the series’ all-new, highly overdue threequel, Bill & Ted Face the Music isn’t shy about acknowledging the blatant anachronisms that Bill and Ted are in 2020.
This movie is a long time coming, one that’s been in active development for at least a decade, after the diverging careers of lead stars, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter previously stopped the series short at its second movie. Considering Keanu Reeves’ massive career resurgence off the back of 2014’s John Wick however, now is the perfect time for Reeves in particular to revisit one of his best-known performances, alongside Winter, who has more or less been completely absent from Hollywood since the 90’s. It’s a bit of a gamble, especially since, like I said, Bill and Ted are themselves very out of time in 2020, but surprisingly, Bill & Ted Face the Music works. It stands alongside its two predecessors as a creatively ambitious, undeniably charming sci-fi comedy romp, one that smartly exploits the modern, character-based evolution of cinema by finally turning the camera inward, and aiming it at the very souls of two 90’s-era slackers that couldn’t give a frog’s fat ass about real responsibility or consequences.
Better still is that Bill & Ted Face the Music is releasing simultaneously in theatres and on VOD via premium home rental, meaning that you can still savour its comforting flavour, even if going to the movies isn’t currently an option in your area. That’s great, because while it’s pretty predictable and not super deep (though it does contain a few more narrative layers than its two predecessors), Bill & Ted Face the Music is just as much fun to watch at home as it is to watch on the big screen. You’ll obviously get the most out of it if you’ve seen the previous two movies, since this threequel is packed with winking nods and Easter eggs related to its 80’s/90’s-era predecessors, but even if this is your first encounter with Bill & Ted, Bill & Ted Face the Music is a fun, light-hearted watch that will likely hit the spot for viewers that could use a reassuring smile after such a difficult year especially.
After the conclusion of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, where would you imagine that Bill and Ted would be in 2020? Bear in mind that these are two dimwits who have no desire whatsoever to legitimately grow or change, and have hinged their entire existence around a prophecy from their teen years, stating that they alone must save the world with their terrible, terrible homebrew rock music. Yeah, they’re exactly where you’d think they’d be; Family nuisances who never grew up, incessantly chasing their glory days, and sharing a relentless bromance that’s more devout than the legitimate romance they share with their princess wives. Hell, one of the funniest subtle jokes in the entire movie is that Bill and Ted even named their now-adult daughters after each other, with Ted’s daughter being named, “Billie”, and Bill’s daughter being named, “Thea.” Also, yes, this is a bit of a clumsy retcon from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, which concluded with Bill and Ted appearing to have sons named after themselves, but honestly, this joke with Bill’s and Ted’s daughters was too good not to put in this new threequel, especially when it suggests that Bill and Ted were holding each other’s babies while defeating De Nomolos, not their own, which retroactively makes the second movie’s climax even funnier!
But what happened? Weren’t Bill and Ted supposed to create the music that served as the foundation for the utopian future society of the 2600’s and 2700’s? Well, that mystery is at the heart of Bill’s and Ted’s character arcs as Bill & Ted Face the Music begins. It picks up with a middle-aged Bill and Ted having lost their former fame as rock stars, and despite still living decent suburban lives in San Dimas, California (as neighbours, naturally), they’ve been reduced to chasing every conceivable music trend as low-rent party musicians. This is clearly pathetic, and takes the can-do attitude of Bill and Ted in a surprisingly dark direction, at least at first. Despite that though, Bill & Ted Face the Music surprisingly doesn’t feel like a sad movie, smartly exploiting the innate, well-meaning obliviousness of its main characters, who clearly aren’t perceiving how much of a tragic joke they’ve become in 2020.
There are two reasons why this otherwise grim future for Bill and Ted doesn’t disturb the feel-good tone of Bill & Ted Face the Music. The first is Winter and Reeves going all-out on recycling the same goofy performances they delivered in the previous two movies. Winter and Reeves play Bill and Ted as if they legitimately don’t notice that they’re now in their 50’s. Considering that mid-life crisis-themed movies are often so heavy and introspective in the modern era, this alone is both refreshing and hilarious. Bill and Ted are never shown as truly being in denial, or having some sort of mental illness or trauma. They just never grew up, with no explanation, and in 2020, that’s very funny! This is brilliantly displayed with an opening segment that shows Bill and Ted in couples’ therapy with their wives, who have been recast in Bill & Ted Face the Music, with Ted’s wife, Princess Elizabeth now being played by Erinn Hayes, and Bill’s wife, Princess Joanna now being played by Jayma Mays. A frustrated therapist, played by Jillian Bell, immediately digs into Bill’s and Ted’s wives being bothered at the two never noticing how creepy and cloying their over-the-top bromance is by modern standards, and Bill and Ted completely fail to even fundamentally grasp what the therapist is saying. This takes a setup that’s normally supposed to be tragic, and twists it in order to make Bill and Ted too dense to be penetrated by said tragedy, a joke that’s constantly built upon to strong effect throughout the entirety of Bill & Ted Face the Music!
Further building on that joke is the second reason, namely the fact that Bill’s and Ted’s daughters are almost exactly like their teenage selves, being just as dopey, oblivious and eternally optimistic as Bill and Ted were back in the 80’s and 90’s. Thea, played by Ready or Not’s Samara Weaving, and Billie, played by Atypical’s Brigette Lundy-Paine, are also aspiring musicians that end up being roped into their own adventure in this threequel, headlining a subplot that serves as a surprisingly sharp callback to the spirit of the prior two Bill & Ted movies, this time rolled into a singular package. Hayes and Mays sometimes feel a little under-utilized, which is a bummer, since these are two very funny women, but fortunately, the supporting cast has plenty of other standouts, between Kristen Schaal as the late Rufus’ time-traveling daughter, Kelly, Holland Taylor as a considerably less ‘chill’ ‘Great Leader’ in the future, and especially Anthony Carrigan as a Terminator-esque killer robot with severe emotional hangups. I don’t want to spoil any of the great jokes shared between both the new and returning cast members, but there are no comedic weak spots in Bill & Ted Face the Music’s cast, even when Bill’s and Ted’s perspectives sometimes overshadow the agendas of the other characters.
Bill & Ted Face the Music isn’t quite the bold story reinvention that Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was back in 1991, but its concept presents a fitting belated trilogy capper that somewhat combines the concepts of the previous two movies, now surrounding an all-new conflict. The premise of this threequel involves time itself destabilizing, resulting in famous historical figures and geographical locations disappearing and re-appearing at random locations throughout the timeline, including present-day 2020. The only hope to fix this imminent collapse of reality is, of course, Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan, who are now washed-up fiftysomething musicians that failed to maintain their supposed musical destinies in the long term. After Bill and Ted are contacted by their former historical mentor, Rufus’ daughter, Kelly, they decide to go forward in time to steal the ‘ultimate song’ that unites the world, from themselves, while their equally bumbling daughters and increasingly impatient princess wives try to assist on their own separate quests.
How a song is meant to bring everyone together and repair a fracturing space-time continuum, much less when Bill and Ted are retconned to be failures in Rufus’ prophecy, is anyone’s guess. Then again, Bill & Ted was never all that concerned with making much sense as a franchise, even between sequels. The real issue with the otherwise fun and heartwarming storyline of Bill & Ted Face the Music is that it is incredibly predictable, even as it tries to carry a big twist behind its resolution. Hell, if you’ve seen any high-profile comedy in recent years, you can probably guess almost immediately who the real heroes of this movie, and this franchise’s prophecy, end up being. Sure, Bill & Ted movies have never aspired to be think pieces, but by the standards of 2020, it might be tough to sell non-fans on a highly straightforward romp that can’t help but telegraph most of its big twists and turns.
That being said, if you are a fan of Bill & Ted, the incredible amount of love and reverence for these characters’ legacy throughout the storytelling of Bill & Ted Face the Music feels very gratifying. This movie is a very clear love letter to what Bill & Ted created so many years ago, along with being a mission to prove that the wholesome storytelling of a Bill & Ted movie can still work in our more enlightened and cynical modern era. This is exactly why Bill & Ted Face the Music feels especially well-timed too, even if unintentionally. After the issues with widespread political protests, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and other such unrest and tragedy around the world in 2020, Bill & Ted Face the Music is an ideal anthem for global partnership, even while the latest journey of its half-witted heroes certainly won’t challenge your mind at all.
Bill & Ted Face the Music yet again changes directors, this time having Dean Parisot helm this threequel. Most of Parisot’s directing work is in television, but he has made a couple of notable splashes in directing movies every now and again, most of all with 1999’s enduring cult sci-fi comedy, Galaxy Quest. The guy who directed Galaxy Quest is the perfect candidate for a Bill & Ted movie, and sure enough, Parisot doesn’t disappoint! It’s obvious that Parisot is a big fan of the prior two Bill & Ted movies, because his direction is packed with references and nods to both of them. Not only that, but Parisot’s own passion for the material clearly translates to the cast, with Reeves and Winter in particular defying their age by still playing their characters with over-the-top, 90’s-era actions and speech, as if they were still in their twenties.
Every joke is set up and executed to strong effect, with every actor clearly engaged, and all of them having a ton of fun playing their parts. The bumbling earnestness that defines Bill & Ted is recaptured in full here, as if the franchise hasn’t aged a day, and that’s especially surprising when this movie is actively designed to acknowledge how many decades have passed since a new Bill & Ted movie released! In fact, it’s difficult to break down the minutiae of Parisot’s direction, because there are so many fun, clever and cool little touches throughout Bill & Ted Face the Music, which somehow manages to simultaneously function as a 90’s comedy out of time, and a smart, modern commentary on the funnier side of a mid-life crisis. Sure, the way that Bill & Ted Face the Music is put together feels like it was specifically made for longstanding Bill & Ted fans first and foremost, but even newcomers will find plenty to enjoy with such a potent feel-good tone, even while this threequel also displays an effectively self-deprecating sense of humour toward its eponymous leads.
Mark Isham composes the soundtrack of Bill & Ted Face the Music, and this being a Bill & Ted movie, you can imagine that the soundtrack continues to play a sizable part in the humour and tone. Isham’s also got a very long composing pedigree, across many different genres, even having worked on Keanu Reeves vehicle, Point Break all the way back during the early 90’s, when Bill & Ted was still a fresh concept. This is yet another decision that ends up paying surprising dividends as well, with Isham overseeing a musical score that’s just as confused and inconsistent as Bill and Ted themselves throughout this movie. The two trying to recapture their former glory across even the most obscure and wacky of music translates into the score and audio gags, which are also touched up with some welcome modern punch, particularly the use of more powerful time-traveling phone booths and Time Circuits. The kooky spirit of Bill & Ted yet again finds a way to fit surprisingly well into modern movie conventions, without forsaking its own love of the 80’s-era heyday of rock, helping Bill & Ted Face the Music’s audio design continue to serve this threequel as a perfect marriage between the old and the new.
Having originally been realized in the late 80’s and early 90’s, you can imagine that the special effects in the prior two Bill & Ted movies are… Dated, to say the least. The bad effects have become part of those movies’ weird charm, but in 2020, they definitely need a touch-up. Fortunately, Bill & Ted Face the Music makes pretty good use of its paltry $25 million budget, creating more modern and impressive time travel effects, while also displaying some surprisingly good wardrobe work, especially through Anthony Carrigan’s robot makeup and costume! The future scenes are also much more detailed than they were in the previous movies, without completely ditching the vibrant, wholesome charm of the future scenes from those prior offerings. It’s a little surprising just how polished and impressive Bill & Ted Face the Music often looks, even on such a tiny budget!
Again though, it’s the costumes and wardrobe that stand out even more than the CGI backdrops and other such effects throughout the movie. Some of these will be familiar to Bill & Ted fans, and I certainly won’t spoil these callbacks, but a lot of this visual material is new, while still packing in the same incredible, if silly imagination that made the first two Bill & Ted movies such a delight. Even the special effects that intentionally look fake feel strangely convincing and rooted within this world, piggybacking off of Bill and Ted themselves just not growing with the rest of modern society. Sure, these effects are a far cry from the visually stunning modern blockbusters that most moviegoers take for granted in the 21st Century, but Bill & Ted Face the Music successfully translates the goofy style of its two predecessors into 2020, and that’s not easy to do when their considerably aged visuals already looked pretty silly in the 80’s and 90’s!
For longtime Bill & Ted fans that have waited literal decades for a third movie in the series, Bill & Ted Face the Music presents sweet, comforting nostalgia that nonetheless manages to reinvent Bill & Ted just enough so that it feels relevant again in 2020. That’s an impressive feat, considering that the Bill & Ted movies feel like time capsules of a more innocent and wholesome era from the end of the twentieth century. Bill & Ted Face the Music smartly manages to play with the very notion that its titular characters would fit poorly in the modern climate of 2020, which ironically makes them the accidental, bumbling heroes that we need at this point, when the world feels especially dark and miserable.
As for non-fans, there’s still a good amount of chuckles in Bill & Ted Face the Music that one can enjoy without knowledge of the prior two movies. Like I said though, this threequel is very clearly designed to appeal to fans first, and considering that Bill & Ted is a long-dormant, highly nostalgic property from the late 80’s and early 90’s, perhaps that’s a smart target audience. Those who already dislike Bill & Ted (somehow), or those who are looking for a smarter, more mentally engaging comedy had best look elsewhere, but for anyone that wants some lovable comfort food, comfort food that’s nonetheless not afraid to acknowledge how times have changed since the early 90’s, Bill & Ted Face the Music feels like soothing salve on the open wound that 2020 likely left on your soul. I’m confident that it will stand the test of time alongside its two predecessors, which it matches the simple, silly charm of with aplomb.
More than ever these days, we could use Bill & Ted’s sacred reminder to be excellent to each other. Bless its eponymous characters for not being tainted by the world of the twenty-first century, and for managing to keep the party going in their own special way!
- Winter and Reeves remain a hilarious double act
- New and returning supporting cast is lots of fun
- Smart balance between classic and new story material
- Storytelling is largely predictable
- The princesses are strangely overshadowed