MINOR SPOILERS LIE AHEAD …
Twenty nine years is a long time between films for any franchise, and it’s fair to wonder if after waiting all that time, whether Bill & Ted Face the Music may have lost the zest and sweet, sincere hilarity of the first two instalments Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
The goods news, and let’s face it, with an opening like that the odds were good that the assessment was likely to be fulsomely positive, is that Bill and Ted, two of the loveliest, noblest and most well-intentioned people you are ever like to (fictionally) meet, are still staying true to the idea that their song, whatever it may be, will change not only the world but everything that makes it up too from space and time to the annoying banality of reality.
(If you wondered, like this reviewer, how the world and cosmos-changing of their music, detailed in the credits of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey to amusing effect via a series of concisely expositional headlines, came to nought while acting as a new convenient narrative catalyst for Bill & Ted Face the Music, go to CBR.com for all the retcons that made the third film in the franchise possible.)
This is important because throughout all the inspired lunacy that takes place around the now grown-up music-loving San Dimas, California-stoners, the one thing that holds true and gives the franchise any kind of emotional impact and lasting appeal, which remains considerable or there wouldn’t be a third film, is that the fact that Theodore “Ted” Logan and William S. “Bill” Preston, Esq. (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter respectively), for all their sometimes-limited perspective on the world, are inherently decent, good and worthy people.
That’s the whole reason why their music, via the band Wild Stallyns, of which Death is no longer a member after some ego clashing way back when, matters so much to them; they take the prophecy seriously, they believe, to the exclusion of viable professional careers and the ongoing health of their marriages to medieval princesses Joana and Elizabeth (Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes respectively), that they are absolutely key to fundamentally securing the peace and safety of the world.
After all, Rufus (the late George Carlin who appears briefly via inventive use of archival footage) took them through space and time to show them how important they are, a role take over by his daughter Kelli (Kristen Schaal; her character’s name is a touching tribute to Carlin, referencing his own daughter’s name), and they went to hell and heaven, quite literally dude, to stay true to their calling and to look after those they love.
They know it’s all true, that it matters, even if their therapist played with gleeful disbelief by Gillian Bell, does not believe their outlandish tales during couples’ therapy (that in itself is a joy to watch), and they will do what they have to do make it all happen.
And, that dear viewers is what makes Bill & Ted Face the Music far more than a simple ticking of the threequel box.
That, and the fact that the retcon-ing which takes the form not only of how successful their music has been but Death’s role in things, and the fact they now have daughters instead of sons, adds to the storyline in immeasurably enriching ways rather than detracting from it.
Take the sex change of Bill & Ted’s kids, for instance.
By making their kids Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Payne who absolutely nails her character’s dad’s distinctive mannerisms) and Theadora “Thea” Preston (Samara Weaving) young women with a fearsomely-detailed knowledge of and love for music, with burgeoning talents of their home, the writers of Bill & Ted Face the Music, once again Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, place the film squarely in the modern drive for gender equality in the creative arts.
Far from a tokenistic gesture, giving our two guys daughters every bit as enthusiastic and into music as their dads infuses this most gloriously funny and heartfelt of films with a whole fresh new perspective and reason to be.
After all, they are the next generation and if anyone is going to be moved, full on untainted by bitter life experience and hope for the future, by the imperilling of the Utopian splendour of humanity’s future 700 years hence, it’s them.
Plus they love their dads, and when Bill & Ted find out from the Great Leader (Kelli’s mum and Rufus’s widowed wife, played by Holland Taylor) that they have just 77 minutes to write and play a song at the mysterious spot of M46 at 7.17pm or reality as everyone’s knows it will blink from existence, their daughters do everything they can to help their dads make this most onerous of pressing tasks happen.
Quite how they carry out this urgent mission of their own is best left to the viewing of Bill & Ted Face the Music, but it does involve time travel, a Terminator-like robot with issues called Dennis Caleb McCoy and the now-requisite cast of historical figure celebrity cameos including Mozart (Daniel Dorr), ancient drummer Grom (Patti Anne Miller) and Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Stil) and the kind of heartstrings-hugging love and devotion that would make any father proud.
Together with their dads, who have to wrestle with some significant existential crises of their own on the way to saving all of time, space and reality as we know it (so, no pressure then?), they form the vibrantly-beating, joyously effervescent heart and soul of what is a very funny film.
Time and again, Bill & Ted Face the Music manages to happily dance between over-the-top hilarity and meaningful interaction, all while remaining every bit as imaginatively inspired as its predecessors.
It is very much its own film and while it employs nostalgia, it isn’t captive to it, quite a feat when almost three decades of fandom expectations is pressing down upon you; sure, there are copious nods to the first two films because of course there must be, but they don’t suffocate or overwhelm the new instalment but act as an enriching addition to what is a deeply amusingly, meaningful fresh and hilarious story.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is the kind of pandemic blues-busting film that our current virus-blighted age needs desperately because it keeps true to the innate goodness of two of the most bodacious heroes to ever grace the hallowed halls of film and humanity, adds in two daughters who are eminently capable of not just carrying the flame but causing it to grow still brighter, and a vivaciously alive goofy sensibility that marries perfectly with the film’s more heartfelt, moving moments.
Who said you can’t go back? You can, most certainly my excellent friends, and it’s a delight to confirm that Bill & Ted Face the Music isn’t simply a competent long-delayed filling-in of the trilogy gap, but a fine and funny film of its own which makes you laugh (a lot), makes you sigh with happiness that people can be so loving and selfless, and adds to a lustrous franchise which isn’t just fun to watch but saves time and space as know it.