Against all odds, this third (and 29-years-later) installment is a creative and clever time-travel comedy that artistically justifies its existence. It may be my favorite of the trilogy.
Against all odds, and all expectations, Bill & Ted Face the Music is a perfectly enjoyable sci-fi comedy. It absolutely plays to the fans of the prior two Bill & Ted adventures without heavily relying on gag repetition, and its story feels genuinely different rather than (as feared) just being a loose remake of the first movie. Penned by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, with tight direction courtesy of Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest), this light, breezy, charming 90-minute romp fits right in with the “young heroes become old men” sub-genre. I watched the first two films when they were in theaters when I was a pre-teen and liked them well enough without finding time to watch them again. Having re-watched Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey over the last two days, I think Face the Music is my favorite of the bunch.
William S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) start the movie at a crossroad, with the middle-aged men having not yet achieved their promise of their music uniting the world. However, the tone offers a refreshing change of place from the now standard “your childhood heroes grew up to be miserable failures” trope. While they arguably didn’t live up to their potential, they are still relatively happy. They are still married to Princess Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Princess Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and are unusually close to their now young adult daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Wihelmina (Brigette Lundy-Paine). To be fair, Bill and Ted kept pressing onward with their musical dreams precisely because their previous adventures seemingly confirmed their eventual success. They may not be on top of the world, but they aren’t figures of pity.
Since Bill & Ted never wrote the world-uniting song, the future is on the verge of total annihilation. So Rufus’ daughter (the always welcome Kristen Schaal) snatches up our heroes and brings them to the future, where “The Great Leader” (Holland Taylor) informs them that they have just 77 minutes to write a song that will save all of reality. Rather than hunker down and write the song, Ted and Bill attempt to travel into the future, where presumably they have written the song, in order to “steal from ourselves.” Meanwhile, “Thea” and “Billie” end up on a concurrent time-travel adventure of their own, spinning through time to borrow some of history’s most famous musicians on the off-chance that they’ll want to help the Wyld Stallyns reach their maximum potential. And that’s all the plot you really need.
What transpires is a genuinely funny and surprisingly clever sci-fi romp, one which gives Reeves and Winter ample opportunities to play against different versions of themselves. I’m not sure whether Reeves’ exaggeratedly goofy English accent is an in-joke for fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Much Ado About Nothing, but I giggled. Meanwhile, giving the daughters a concurrent adventure prevents repetition and redundancy while allowing the movie to dive into music as an artform and a historical document. While the first two movies used time travel and the notion of musical success as seasoning for a general brotastic character play, Bill & Ted Face the Music commits to the bit in terms of the value of art and the narrative potential of time travel. Meanwhile, Bill and Ted have mellowed out just enough to not be aggressively obnoxious.
Face the Music offers its share of Easter eggs for fans, but it stands on its own both for newbies and for those who saw the previous films decades ago. Sure, there’s comic value if you remember William Sadler’s Grim Reaper turn in Bogus Journey, but Sadler is amusing enough here sans nostalgic context to seal the deal. Anthony Carrigan is quite funny as a weirdly conflicted and “nice” killer robot. In terms of production values, it doesn’t feel as big and visually grand as Bogus Journey (which cost $20 million in 1991), but the $25 million threequel doesn’t feel like a cheap cash-in. It’s far more narratively disciplined and visually imaginative than the (admittedly by-the-skin-of-its-teeth) $7 million Excellent Adventure. Whether you rent it at home or see it on a big screen, you’ll get your money’s worth.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is a fun time with good company, with a deluge of winning comic actors having fun with a twisty time-travel plot that really feels “about” some of the themes and genre concepts that the previous two films just used for decoration. The movie has a few subtle thoughts about legacy, the many different ways you can save the world and the value of handing your sword to the next generation. It is a spirited, upbeat and optimistic romp, remembering that Bill and Ted are excessively nice and (when the situation requires) not as dumb as they appear. It is as surprisingly good as Bad Boys For Life and continues Keanu Reeves’ winning streak with sequels. I don’t know if the world needed another Bill & Ted movie, but this is a surprisingly good one.