I’m going to come out and say this in the opening sentence: the 1989 movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (starring a young Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) is one of my all time favourite movies. I also loved 1991’s sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and am old enough to have very positive memories of the short lived Hanna-Barbera animated Bill & Ted series. So I followed the various news reports about a follow up third movie almost not daring to believe, and yet in 2020 came the long-awaited Bill & Ted Face The Music.
For those who have not seen these charmingly wonderful movies let me give you a quick summary. Bill S. Preston Esq (Winter) and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (Reeves) are two metal head Californian slackers who, upon learning that a song they are destined to write will bring together the universe in peace and harmony, go on a series of time travelling adventures to ensure that destiny does not get derailed.
The first two movies followed them in their youth and culminated in an epic gig for their band ‘Wyld Stallyns’ (along with Death on bass – don’t ask), and Face The Music returns to them as down and out middle-aged men who have still failed to write the foretold song. So why try? Why not travel forward in time and take the song from their future selves instead?
Returning writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson have skilfully avoided the signpost hitting nostalgia trek in re-joining their creations nearly 30 years later and new director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) is happy to keep the pace of the comedy pumping. Keanu Reeves (To The Bone), in particular, has made a career since the early 90s as a mostly stone-faced stoic man so his return to a character that is at once both dim witted and energetically sweet natured is a joy to behold.
The characters of Bill & Ted are in essence paper-thin and inherently interchangeable; Face The Music acknowledges this early on with a hilarious marriage counseling scene with their wives (rescued medieval English princesses from the first movie) that both sets up the personal stakes for the duo and also gives you a clue as to their utterly intertwined way of thinking.
As wonderful as catching up with the most triumphant duo is, Bill & Ted Face The Music is fleshed out and updated by the addition of Bill & Ted’s daughters: Thea ‘Theadore’ Preston and Willhelmina ‘Billie’ Logan (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine). Having grown up musical expert dropouts like their fathers they also go on a time-traveling adventure to help out by collecting a clutch of historically significant musicians. Their characters may be identical to their fathers but the pair pull off superb vocal and physical impressions of Reeves and Winter’s mannerisms that give proceedings an extra hit of something special.
The plot itself is utterly daft in a way befitting the previous movies. All entries recognised that spending time with loveable characters will paper over any problems that time travel or continuity generate. The stakes have been risen insofar as that without the song being played within 75 minutes, the whole of space and time will unravel, and there are those in the future that believe it is the death of Bill & Ted, not their performance of a song, that unifies the universe.
So while Bill & Ted are crashing through time and arguing with increasingly bitter and manipulative versions of their future selves (who blame their past selves for the break down of their marriages) there is also a robot assassin (who incidentally steals several scenes) and a return to Hell squashed into what is only a 91 minute movie.
Sure there a few moments that slightly overplay a joke (Death’s scenes are a little perfunctory) and Thea and Billie’s plotline is a rehash of Excellent Adventures’ ‘let’s take figures from history’ jaunts except not quite as engaging, but these are glued together in such a ‘be excellent to each other!’ message that the soul of the series is well and truly healthy. Bill & Ted are superbly balanced characters. Their intentional utter lack of depth means they embody the best of all intentions and their ‘idiocy’ is never played in a cruel or sneering way.
Face The Music is a respectful underlining of these character’s stories and manages to close out a plot line that revolves around writing a song that brings together the whole of creation in a way that is both unexpected and sincerely beautiful. When called on to Face The Music all we can bring is the very best of ourselves and sometimes, just sometimes, that is the most excellent result.
Words by Mike Record