The past few years have not been good for legacy comedy sequels. Films like Men In Black International or Anchorman 2 remind us of the dangers of returning to revisit old friends and that what was once funny may loose some of its humor when repeated years later. Fortunately, Bill & Ted Face The Music – a twenty-some years later follow up to 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, doesn’t suffer from such pitfalls.
When we last left them, it seems as if San Dimas’s resident flaky rockers Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan were well on their way to their prophesied destiny of writing a song that will unite the whole world in harmony. But some 25 years later things have not been going so well. Their most triumphant world-wide performance at the end of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey should have been the start of their worldwide fame, but things quickly sputtered out. As the years passed, the duo continued to work at trying to write the song that will unite the world. And as it continued to elude them, the harder they worked at it. To best musical festival go and check this.
Cut to the present day. Bill and Ted are informed by the Great Leader from the future that their delay in writing the song that will unite the world has now threatened all of reality with collapse. With a strict deadline of a little more than an hour away to write the song, Bill and Ted decide to time travel into their own future to a point where they have written the song and take it from themselves. But as they hop further and further up their personal timeline they find that their future selves will keep making band decisions that will further send their lives on a path that they do not want them to be on. Meanwhile, eager to help their fathers out, Bill and Ted’s daughters Thea and Billie take another time machine into the past to assemble an all-star band of famous musicians to help their dads play the important song. Of course, things have a way of not going as planned.
Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves have slipped effortlessly back into their iconic roles from the first two films. Time has passed for the duo and they are trying hard to cling to the innocent optimism that seems to drive their every decision and action, but their lack of success has blunted that edge somewhat. It is not just the few lines along the face that are starting to show that these guys have been living their lives, but Winter and Reeves’ performances. It is subtle work, but it plays well. The casting of Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving as Billie and Thea is spot on. Lundy-Paine has Keanu’s mannerisms from the earlier films down to a tee, while Weaving displays her own goofy charm that is very much at odds with the intense performance she gave in last year’s action thriller Ready Or Not.
Screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon are the creators of Bill and Ted, having conjured up the characters while in an improv group in college, and so quite probably have invested at least a small measure of themselves into them. So it is tempting to wonder how much of Bill and Ted’s own mid-life crisis is informing the screenplay here. Not that it matters, because this certainly feels like a theme many people roughly the same age as Bill and Ted find themselves examining in their own life and that is true dramatic weight of the film. This is a sequel that couldn’t have been made just a few years after the last film. This is not a cash in on nostalgia but a story with familiar characters that actually has something on its mind to say. This is a story we as audience had to wait until now for. And it was definitely worth the wait.
OK, yes, on a surface level it may not make immediate sense that if all of reality is supposed to collapse later in the evening, Bill and Ted can jump years and decades into their own future. (Though honestly, my nerdy brain, which loves logic-twisting time travel paradoxes could probably cook up an excuse in fairly short order.) Throw such concerns to the side as even the movie itself concedes it’s own lack of logic by literally telling us “it will all make sense by the end of the story.”
Bill & Ted Face The Music takes the mythology of the first two films and builds on them in fun ways. Sure we get revisits of the first film’s time traveling conceit and the second’s tour of the metaphysical realms of the afterlife. This is to be expected though and Matheson and Solomon use these returning conceits in ways that reveal character as much as they move plot along. As Bill and Ted hopscotch forward through their own lives, their are forced to confront versions of their selves that have wallow in the consequences of their past mistakes, not taking responsibility to try and positively move forward from where they have found themselves. This novel variation on A Christmas Carol has the characters confronting their own futures and learning from their potential mistakes in a way that becomes their character arc through the film and id paid off in the film’s finale. The last time Bill and Ted visited Hell in Bogus Journey, they had to face and conquer their fears in order to escape. This time, they fearlessly charge in to rescue some others in the story who should not necessarily be there.
If there is any fault to be found in Face The Music is that its 90-minute runtime feels somewhat restrictive. Sure, the film’s story engine is a ticking clock so there is a required sense of urgency, but there are some sequences that still feel rushed from an editing standpoint and could benefit from being allowed to breath more. Of course, it could just be that we want to spend a little more time with a couple of endearing old goofball friends.