The Bill & Ted movies are, for the most part, a warm-hearted and sweet affair. Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) greet the world with simplicity and kindness. They’re not the sharpest tools in the shed, but they have a consistent awe and wonder at the universe while maintaining an unbreakable friendship. But it’s been 31 years since their Excellent Adventure and 29 years since their Bogus Journey. Comedy sequels are tough and only get tougher with more time passing. Thankfully, director Dean Parisot and screenwriters Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon turn this time gap to their advantage with the delightful and charming trilogy capper Bill & Ted Face the Music. The new sequel retains the sweetness and silliness of the originals, while embracing the fact that it’s been a few decades since we last saw these characters. Face the Music is probably the last Bill & Ted movie we’ll get, and it makes the trilogy most triumphant.
Following the events of Bogus Journey, Bill and Ted’s band Wyld Stallyns had some success, but in their quest to find a song that would unite the world and bring balance to the universe, the band’s fortunes diminished, the group broke up, but Bill and Ted are still trying to find that special song. Their wives Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) are running out of patience, but the duo has the full support of their music afficionado daughters Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Theodora “Thea” Preston (Samara Weaving). Bill and Ted are then visited by Rufus’ daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal), who takes them to the future where the powers that be tell the duo they have 75 minutes to write their special song or reality as we know it will cease to exist. Bill and Ted resolve to just go to the future where they’ve already written the song and steal it from themselves, while their daughters do some time-hopping of their own to put together a super band. Meanwhile, the powers that be believe that the prophecy about Bill and Ted could be wrong, and that the only way to save reality is to kill the duo, so they send out a killer robot (Anthony Carrigan) to hunt the musicians across time.
Reeves and Winter haven’t performed these roles since 1991’s Bogus Journey, but their dynamic hasn’t missed a step. If anything, the film turns the stunted adolescence into a plot point by showing that Bill and Ted haven’t really grown up, and they haven’t grown up because they were told when they were teenagers that they were going to save the world. This allows the characters to remain the same lovable doofuses from the first two movies while acknowledging that the world has changed around them. Their quest, where they repeatedly confront future versions of themselves, makes for a nice metaphor about struggling to be better only to have your expectations thwarted. Bill and Ted are too sweet and simple to wrestle with the burden of ambition, but they’re a great vehicle for showing how our lives don’t always turn out as planned.
Sending Bill and Ted through time to meet older versions of themselves while their daughters go back in time to collect musicians gives Face the Music a different flavor than the first two. I admire the Bill & Ted series for not trying to play the same song twice even if it means getting super weird (I’m kind of amazed Bogus Journey exists, and I have no idea how they explained Station to the studio). Face the Music juggles more plotlines than the previous films (which were almost entirely from Bill and Ted’s perspective), but it works, especially with the joyful exuberance of Billie and Thea. The new movie never feels like a retread, but instead feels like a fresh story worth telling, and a story that could only be told with an older Bill and Ted.
And that story works incredibly well. I don’t want to give away any of the twists and turns other than it’s wonderful to see Reeves and Winter reunited, and in particular it’s lovely to see Reeves back in a comedy. He had a cameo role in the comedy Always Be My Maybe, but while Reeves has cemented himself as one of the greatest action stars of all time, Face the Music shows his comedic chops remain sharp and he can still play a lovable dimwit opposite Winter, who is clearly having a ball playing Ted again. The guys are also surrounded by a terrific cast, but the guy who ends up stealing it is, unsurprisingly, Barry breakout Carrigan. The less said about his character the better, but he consistently gets the biggest laughs in the movie.
I was worried that Bill & Ted may not have the staying power, especially when we’ve seen comedy sequels like Zoolander 2 and Bad Santa 2 falter so badly after decades away from their beloved originals. The secret of the Bill & Ted movies is that they work out from simple characters, but then make their circumstances different enough so that it doesn’t feel like a retread. Yes, Face the Music has time travel and characters going to hell where they encounter the Grim Reaper (William Sadler). There are moments when the pacing gets a bit slow and Bill and Ted fighting with their future selves get a little redundant. But there’s no mistaking Face the Music for the previous two movies, especially as it reaches its lovely crescendo about the kind of future we not only leave to our children, but what those children give to us in return. Party on, dudes.