An inspired and nostalgic blast of fun at a time in human history when genuine amusement is in direly short supply, the long gestating sequel Bill & Ted Face the Music nicely balances fan expectations, progressiveness, gentility, and melancholy to create the ultimate in 2020 cinematic comfort food. Only as deep and smart as it absolutely needs to be (which is to say, not very), the third and perhaps final film in the time travelling journeys of best buds Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) proves to be worth the wait, offering up a consistently amusing and often laugh out loud hilarious scenario befitting of two of history’s most beloved dullards.
Almost three decades after they last saved humanity with a kick ass concert, the members of the band Wyld Stallyns have remained friendly with each other, but never followed through to become successful musicians. It was prophesied that Bill and Ted would write the greatest song ever written; one so bodacious that it would unite the world in musical harmony and hold back a temporal apocalypse. Instead, they’ve spent decades trying and failing to write much of anything. The dudes spend most of their days rocking out and doting on their medieval wives and two equally radical twentysomething kids, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine, playing Ted’s daughter) and Thea (Samara Weaving, playing Bill’s daughter). The kids – who are just as laid back and music savvy as their dads – still love Bill and Ted dearly, but their marriages are on the rocks. Bill and Ted’s attempts to save their relationships, friendship, and band are derailed when they’re visited by Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of their old time travelling friend Rufus, who tells the boys they need to have their magnum opus completed and performed in the next 77 minutes (meaning most of the film unfolds more or less in real time) or existence as we know it will be destroyed by time folding in on itself. Still stumped, Bill and Ted hop back in the old phone booth to travel into the future with hopes of stealing an already written song from future versions of themselves. While Bill and Ted are greeted with sobering visions of how much further they can fall from grace, Billie and Thea hop in a time travel device of their own to help put together a righteous band of musical luminaries from the past to help perform their fathers’ sure to be epic track.
While the original Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was a good bit of silly fun that took the piss out of time travel cliches, the superior sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey brought already likable characters to new heights and added a surprising amount of depth. Bill & Ted Face the Music takes most of its comedic and few dramatic cues from Bogus Journey, offering up a believable and emotionally satisfying continuation in the saga of the boys from San Dimas. It’s not too much of stretch to buy into the concept that the inseparable besties would grow up to become “cool dads” who have comfy suburban lives and only dress marginally better than when they were in their teens and twenties. They’re still being told to get “real jobs,” and everyone except Billie and Thea remain impatient with Bill and Ted’s collective inactivity. Bill & Ted Face the Music isn’t an intellectually taxing film, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of poignant things to say about love, parenthood, friendship, and the fleeting nature of success.
At every fast paced turn, director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) and returning writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon are finding new and clever ways to up the stakes along the way. Sure, the film’s biggest reveal can be figured out mere minutes into the story, but it’s forgivable because the main characters are likably oblivious to what’s right in front of their faces. The viewer knows exactly where the film is heading, but they also want our heroes to figure it out on their own. The destination might never be in doubt throughout Bill & Ted Face the Music, but this is a case where the journey matters more than the resolution, helped along by sharp writing, snappy pacing, and increasingly weird and elaborate set pieces.
The parallel stories of watching Bill and Ted meet their future selves (all of whom are enormous assholes) while fumbling around and making things worse and the excellent adventure of Billie and Thea to set things right rhyme perfectly with one another; a great example of how younger generations can help correct the mistakes of their well meaning, but misguided elders. Bill and Ted learn humility and how to be better individuals, while Billie and Thea learn can finally make something of themselves after a lifetime of inactivity and partying that mirrors that of their parents. It’s a simple interlocking story structure that’s handled with equal parts care and energy, almost like if rollercoasters had stories riders had to follow along with to enhance the experience.
Winter and Reeves don’t have the same manic energy they had as younger dudes, but they still very much know, understand, and love the Bill and Ted dynamic. They bring as much to their parts as they did in the past, and as such Bill and Ted Face the Music feels less like a sequel that’s going through the motions of “getting the band back together,” and more like an overdue, comfortable and surprisingly meaningful reunion with old friends. While Reeves and Winter clearly relish the chance to play manic and somewhat evil futuristic versions of Bill and Ted along the way, they never lose sight of the characters’ bond and overall gentility. They might be a few steps slower, and their faces are starting to realistically sag and wrinkle, but Winter and Reeves still know how to rock a movie that’s supposed to feel like a party.
The real zest to this sugar coated cinematic confection comes from Weaving and Paine, who manage to be the spitting image of their paternal counterparts. Their dynamic is just as engaging and heartfelt as the one shared by Reeves and Winter, but with a lot more youthful energy. If Bill and Ted don’t continue on their own path of righteousness any time soon, I would happily take Billie and Thea’s most excellent adventures in the future. They’re wonderful additions to the franchise, and clearly both performers understand exactly what made the first two films so delightful. They’re as equally joyful to watch.
There are plenty of nifty callbacks to the previous film (including a subtly touching tribute to the late George Carlin, who played Rufus in the first two movies), and it’s an inspired stroke to bring back character actor William Sadler as Death from Bogus Journey. There’s also an unnecessary, but amusingly realized subplot where the supreme leaders of the future have sent a cyborg to assassinate Bill and Ted as a contingency plan against the altering of reality as we know it. The elaborately designed robot killer is played brilliantly by Anthony Carrigan as having an existential crisis about his place in the world and overall ineptitude. It only adds one plot wrinkle to the story, but Carrigan is so committed to the bit and the character is so cleverly written that he adds perfectly to the silliness.
I’m sure there will be plenty of like minded critics (meaning those who actually like to admit when something is fun instead of merely critiquing high art) who’ll say that a film about bringing people together during strange, trying, and dangerous times is exactly what the world needs night now. While I’m still too much of a cynic to say that anything can turn the tides of time even slightly in the world today, I will say that Bill & Ted Face the Music offers the biggest cinematic endorphin rush I’ve had in months. While I severely doubt that a film containing something as delightful as watching Keanu Reeves play the theremin could save the world, I’m just saying that it couldn’t hurt anything worse. Bill & Ted Save the World is harmless in the best possible way. Most critics would use that to take a swipe at something gentle and good natured. Here, it’s the highest praise I could give these days.
Also, while it’s not as “elevated” of a time travel film as Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is this week, I will admit to having a lot more fun watching this. You also don’t have to leave your house to watch Bill & Ted Face the Music if you don’t feel safe doing it. It’s a win-win situation.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is now available on VOD and in select cinemas across Canada.
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