Cinema Dispatch: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music and all the images you see in this review are owned by United Artists Releasing

Directed by Dean Parisot

There haven’t been many rays of sunshine during the last few months of lock-down, but one of them was the first trailer for Bill & Ted Face the Music.  I remember hearing that Reeves and Winter were trying to make this movie back when I was in COLLEGE which at this point that was a depressingly long time ago, but after years of starts and stops, hype and silence, and Keanu Reeves regaining his A-List star clout (as well as becoming everyone’s Favorite Person Ever), the duo have finally returned to give us one more adventure with the Wyld Stallyns.  Is it a beautiful trip down memory lane for all the fans that loved this franchise, or is it too little too late for all the years of anticipation?  Let’s find out!!

Bill S Preston Esq and Ted Theodore Logan (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) have spent their entire lives trying to write the song that unites the world which apparently was NOT God Gave Rock And Roll To You.  Apparently someone else wrote that song and the Wyld Stallyns haven’t come up with a better one since then despite releasing several albums over the years; some of which were decent but they fell off the charts pretty quickly and have been scraping by for some time now.  At least they have loving families that support them as Bill is still married to Princess Joanna (Jayma Mays) and they have a daughter Thea (Samara Weaving) while Ted is still married to Princess Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and they have a daughter Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), but the strain is starting to get to them and they might just give up music altogether.  Right as they’re discussing the end of their career, a time machine shows up in the driveway and out steps Kelly (Kristen Schaal) who is the daughter of Rufus from the previous films, and she takes them to the future where they high council of… I guess the ENTIRE EARTH informs them that their song to save the world is not only to usher in an enlightened age but to fix some horrific distortion in space and time that if they DON’T fix will end all of reality as they know it.  Oh, and they have less than two hours to do it, starting… now!  Without much time left to get their act together, Bill & Ted figure the best way to get the song that saves the future is to go INTO the future and the song after it’s already written by their future selves, and while that’s going on Billie & Thea are given a time machine from Kelly to try and muster up a band who will be talented enough to play the song once Bill & Ted get it.  Will these two loveable has-beens find a way to save the future before time and reality folds in on itself?  Will Billie & Thea turn out to be as good at traveling through space and time as their fathers were, and discover what destiny has in store for them as well?  You know, we could really use a Bill & Ted miracle right now, so what are the chances that this is the MOVIE that will unite the world and save reality as we know it?

“We humbly accept these seven Oscars, the Noble Peace Prize, and the Grammy for Best New Artist!”     “We had to go all the way back to 1977, but we got it!”     “Take THAT, Starland Vocal Band!”

I made sure to rewatch both Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey right before seeing this one, and while I do think it’s the least of the three films, it has enough of the spirit and charm that I consider it a worthy sequel and a satisfying conclusion to the franchise.  Like in Bogus Journey, the first act of this movie doesn’t do a great job of conveying the much deeper and more satisfying story to be found in the rest of it, and for that reason as well as a few others I spent a bit too much of this movie alternating between utter glee and exasperation; but whatever faults you can find in here (of which there are certainly a few), the fact that we’re finally here and finally getting the last chapter of this story makes it hard not to be charmed from the get go.  It’s a love letter in all the dorky awkward ways that made Bill & Ted so lovable in the first place, though maybe a spell check here or there wouldn’t have gone amiss.

“Dude, what the heck is that thing over there?”     “What thing?”     “The thing our dads just went into!”     “Oh!  I think it’s called a TARDIS?”

If you’re a Bill & Ted fan, then I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t really get a kick out of this movie as Reeves and Winter slide back into these characters with such ease while also infusing them with a genuine sense of age and experience.  They are no less the silly goofballs they were in the previous films, but the weight of life, marriage, and fatherhood, not to mention a destiny they’re stuck with they just can’t seem to fulfil, has worn them down quite a bit when all they want to do is what’s best for everyone.  I don’t get the sense watching this that either one of them REALLY wants to be rich and famous for the sake of it; rather they want to do right by the world and can’t do much more than march forward until they stumble upon whatever it is that they’re supposed to do.  That said, what is easily the most brilliant idea they had for this movie is that they are in fact their own worst enemies, and the time travel shenanigans that have them seeing their future selves are almost profound in their wicked and sobering depictions of a future where their selfishness and fatigue did eventually get the better of them.  Once again, Reeves and Winter shine as they have a lot of fun imagining the ways in which these characters’ lives could go terribly wrong and playing it up with gusto whenever these versions show up.  Aside from that, the two other major plot threads involve a conflict going on in the future (we’ll get to that soon enough), and their kids Billie & Thea essentially doing their own version of Excellent Adventure while Bill & Ted are going on their second Bogus Journey.  The story with the kids is far too cramped to have the impact of that original film, but there’s definitely a lot of fun to be had watching them meet musicians throughout history and watching these two play off each other.  This is actually one of the few films where I’d more than willing have them tack on another half hour just so everything really gets it time to shine and all the characters are as fleshed out as you’d want them to be, but if you’re here for Bill & Ted you definitely get what you wanted out of them.

“DUUUUUDE, I can totally be in John Wick 4 now, right!?”     “Oh HECK yeah!!”

What didn’t sit well with me AT ALL though is the depiction of the future which perhaps can be attributed to my nostalgia for the other films, but something definitely seems off here.  Not only do they DRASTICALLY change the lore, but the overall depiction is much bleaker and less fun than what we’ve seen before, as what was once ethereal, wholesome, and certain, is now… well just as messed up and bitter and as the real world.  The leaders are browbeating our heroes into writing the song; not because it’s the key to unlocking the potential of humanity, but because there’s hereto unknown ticking clock on the world, and the drastic steps they are willing to take only make the future look that much more out of step with what we saw it to be.  Bill & Ted no longer feel like the progenitors to an enlightened future that we can only hope to manifest within our lifetime, and instead the future just looks like an Apple store; a place where bowling averages being up and mini-golf scores being down are not legitimate quality of life improvements for the people there.  If that wasn’t bad enough the “lore” as it were has been rewritten so that Rufus wasn’t a simple professor looking out for the greater good and going off of established historical records; rather his views were somewhat controversial as no one actually knows WHAT Bill & Ted did if anything to save the world and create a Utopia.  Look, there’s a lot of Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey nonsense in this series so I don’t need EVERYTHING to make sense, but all these changes make the tone feels more downbeat than it was in the previous films, and one of them I’ll remind you had them dying and going straight to Hell!  In addition to that, I think the overall aesthetic feels lacking.  Even adjusted for inflation this has a bigger budget than Excellent Adventure, but it feels rather barren and lifeless in spots where that movie had a much fuller scope to it.  The previous Bill & Ted movies felt like they took place in big environments; whether it’s San Dimas, a historical period, or even the kingdom of heaven.  Here, everything feels like either a sound stage or a closed set and there’s just less charm to the look of everything; though again, maybe that’s just my nostalgia talking.

“Dude, this is a lot of empty space and polished marble for a bunch of people to just float around.”     “Yeah, are there like still rich people and poor people in the future?  I mean I was kinda hoping that the first thing our music would fix would be Capitalism, but-“     “WILL YOU TWO SHUT UP!!”

Whatever nitpicks, minor quibbles, and rose tinted winging I can come up with, the third act is what brings it all together with so much heart and joy that it almost becomes overwhelming.  The first two Bill & Ted movies resonated not because of its silly jokes and not QUITE because of its unique sci-fi world, but because when it comes down to it Bill & Ted were good kids, and the idea that good kids can ultimately save the world has a lot of appeal to it; at least from my perspective.  It would have been easy for this movie to simply indulge in that and to make the best Bill & Ted movie that thirty year old fans will salivate over, but instead this movie truly understands what about those movies worked but also where they no longer live up to the ideals that it strived for; that the perfect world within the Bill & Ted universe wasn’t always so perfect.  I’m probably not bursting any bubbles here by pointing out that those films lack in non-white representation and the use of the F word in both films (the OTHER F word) is a HUGE sour note when rewatching them, and while some people will certainly take this films attempts to address to address them as an ATTACK ON MY CHILDHOOD or whatever, it all works to the central theme this film is going for; growth.  Bill & Ted are still good boys, but the movie is ultimately about them growing up to be good men and better fathers, and I think the film does a good job of not just showing us THEIR growth, but helping the people who went with them on this thirty year journey grow a little bit with them.  It’s still imperfect in a lot of ways, but it’s heartening that they can admit their faults and provide us with such a positive experience.  Also, that ending followed by the post credits scene?  Wow.  The other two movies had some great endings too, but if you want to talk about definitive moments of the franchise, this will definitely be towards the top of the list! Right up there with Lincoln saying PARTY ON, DUDES!

Shine on you magnificent time travelers, and hopefully I’ll someday get that Bill & Ted/Tenacious D crossover I’ve always wanted!

Maybe a bigger budget would have helped here and there, and I certainly would have changed almost EVERYTHING they did with the future segments of this movie, but in the end it’s Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves giving us one last chance to be with these characters who meant a whole lot to so many of us.  I don’t know exactly what I would have wanted if I got a say in how to finish this series, but the fact that it surprised me as a fan and genuinely made me feel like it’s time to close the book is an accomplishment where many other revival films like this (many of which are still good!) prefer to indulge and keep the door open for something down the road.  I’m sure they COULD find some wiggle room if someone really wanted to, especially with their daughters, but for now it’s the perfect ending to an imperfect but VERY important series.  I’d definitely advise that you rewatch both of the previous films before going into this once since there are plenty of callbacks throughout (the very first joke in the movie is one I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t rewatched Bogus Journey), but this gets a VERY strong recommendation from me; probably the strongest recommendation of any movie I’ve seen since the shutdown began!  Sadly we don’t live in a world where air guitar eliminates smog or all diseases can be cured with groovy bass lines, but we do live in a world with Bill & Ted and it’s certainly better than a world without them.

4 out of 5

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If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Bill & Ted Face the Music

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