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Bill and Ted Face the Music could never be the stone-cold sci-fi comedy classic that the original film, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure became in 1989. The good news, however, is that it is the second-best Bill and Ted movie. Appropriately, it feels like seeing your favorite band from high school during middle age when said band is…older. While the Wyld Stallions may not have the stamina they used to, they can still play the hits, and maybe at least one interesting new number. That’s good enough.
Be forewarned, however, that at least at the beginning, this is indeed one of those legacy sequels which undoes the happy ending of the previous film. As it must. For not only does it create more drama to show former time travelers and world-saving rock stars Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) in tougher circumstances, it’s also necessary due to the passage of time. World peace did not arrive as promised in 1991 after Bill and Ted’s band played their post-Bogus Journey hit. And since the hit was, in fact, KISS’ “God Gave Rock and Roll to You,” that’s really no surprise. World peace deserves better.
Suburban dad-aged Bill and Ted aren’t in the worst of times, though. It’s just that they became one-hit wonders, and now have to deal with normal problems like spousal miscommunication and not having jobs. But that’s not what anyone came to see, and indeed, it isn’t long before the movie’s playing the hits. Bill and Ted set off on an existential bogus journey, while their daughters Theodora (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) go on an excellent adventure through history. The goal is once again to save the world with a song, for reasons about as important and easy to explain as Star Trek technobabble.
Speaking of Star Trek, the director here is Dean Parisot, who helmed Galaxy Quest, which is probably the best unofficial Trek movie ever made. Incidentally, Galaxy Quest is also a movie about stars past their prime finding a second wind. Oddly enough, Parisot has almost made a Don Coscarelli movie, with vast, apocalyptic mythmaking in the background, framed by judicious use of minimalist sets, and an eerie lack of crowds. Both prior franchise installments established wide plot parameters, and while Face the Music often feels like a scrappy, low-budget cult film, it never seems to cheapen out. The time circuits remain the exact same 1989 CGI effect, which is not just forgivable, but outright charming.
Full of commitment, but lacking the same energy level they emitted three decades ago, Winter and Reeves slip back into the characters with ease and a touch more maturity. Bill and Ted could not, after all that they saw in the previous films, remain as uneducated and juvenile as they used to be. But the youthful enthusiasm remains inside, even if it takes a bit more effort to break it out. Reeves was dangerously caricatured for a long time after the first film as just the “Whoa, dude” guy. Here, Reeves brings in snippets of some of his other acting roles, with small hints of Shakespearean introspection and Neo-like zen.
Winter has largely stayed behind the camera since the original Bill and Ted days, so it’s tough to see him as anyone else anyway. Both excel the most as alternate versions of themselves — only rarely does Reeves cut this loose to the point that he feels like a true improv comic. It’s excellent to see.
Of the two daughters, Lundy-Paine absolutely looks and acts like she could be the true heir to Ted “Theodore” Logan. Weaving does her best, but she looks nothing like Bill S. Preston Esq. In lieu of George Carlin, who gets a brief tribute, Kristen Schaal steps into the future mentor phone box, with less to do, but enough enthusiasm to do it. Other familiar players show up, most notably William Sadler’s Death, torturing his fake Werner Herzog accent into new heights of word-taffy. And Gotham‘s Victor Zsasz actor Anthony Carrigan plays the surefire new breakout character, Dennis, whose storyline is a deft and hilarious take on another beloved ’80s time travel movie.
Time spent with Bill and Ted now may not always be gut-bustingly hilarious, but it’s comfy and familiar. So much so that it’s always a bit disappointing to cut away to their daughters’ storyline. It’s all necessary to make Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson’s plot coherent in a way that Bogus Journey never was. But for Weaving and Lundy-Paine to measure up to Reeves and Winter in holding our attention is as nigh-impossible as defeating San Dimas High School football. Presumably.
Meanwhile, in the world outside, domestic peace, let alone world peace, seems unlikely, even if the right song could play at the right time. Can Bill and Ted believably bring us all together again, if only for an hour and a half? And if they succeed, will viewers believe it? If there’s one thing recent cinema and celebrity antics has taught us, it’s this: In Keanu we trust. And now, in his best friend too. Whether one loves Bill and Ted or merely likes them (haters, leave!), they deserve faith. This time, at least, they have not betrayed it. The band’s back together, and they’ve still got it.