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[This story contains spoilers for Bill & Ted Face the Music.]
The two great ones, Bill and Ted, are back! After a decade of development, the follow-up to cult classics Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) has finally arrived in our timeline. Bill & Ted Face the Music not only sees Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves reprise their respective roles as Bill and Ted, but also brings back the writers of the first two films, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. The film, directed by Dean Parisot, is a worthy successor to the first two, offering the same charming performances, pithy humor and sincerity that has kept Bill and Ted in the pop culture consciousness for over 30 years. For a project that at one time seemed like it would never come to fruition, Bill & Ted Face the Music is the film we need right now.
It’s been 29 years since audiences have last seen the Wyld Stallyns, and not much has changed for Bill and Ted, which is part of their problem. Although it was foretold that they would write the song that would unite the world, they’ve yet to make good on that prophecy, as their album sales have crashed and previously sold-out concerts at the Grand Canyon have turned into afternoon barroom shows for patrons who just happen to be there. While still married to actual European princesses they pulled from the past on their first adventure, Joanna (Jayma Mays), and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), and adored by their two music-loving daughters, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), Bill and Ted did not become everything they hoped or were expected to be.
It would have been too easy for Matheson and Solomon to look at Bill and Ted as failures, position them as a commentary on Gen X men who had all the opportunities in the world and still couldn’t make it over the hill and change the world for the better. But that wouldn’t have been in the spirit of Bill & Ted. What’s most surprising about Face the Music, especially when compared to other legacy sequels, is that there’s no cynicism. Bill and Ted haven’t grown apart (they live right next door to each other). They aren’t bad fathers, and show nothing but encouragement and support to their daughters. And even though they’re in couples counseling, which provides one of the film’s most humorous scenes, they aren’t bad husbands either. They are simply feeling lost and directionless as their attempts to make the world a better place have yet to. And there’s nothing more relatable — especially in 2020 — than watching good people trying to do good as best they can, with limited success.
When they learn they have only a matter of hours to write the song that will save the universe, Bill and Ted, with the help of Rufus’ daughter, Kelly (Kristen Schaal), travel through various timelines to meet future versions of themselves in order to obtain the song they wrote. Meanwhile, Billie and Thea travel to the past, forming a band of history’s greatest musicians, and Kid Cudi, in order to back their dads when the moment arrives. The film moves with the lightness of the first installment, while incorporating some of the heavier emotional beats of the second. There’s a scene in which Bill and Ted encounter their much older selves in hospice care that is weirdly wonderful. It’s largely played for laughs, but there’s something oddly and profoundly touching about Bill telling his older self that he’s always been there for him, and Ted telling his older self that there were times when he felt he never really knew him. On one hand, it’s farcical ramblings from two dumb guys, but on the other, it’s pinpointing the human condition, an existential consideration of one’s self.
Bill and Ted’s journey through time and space reunites them with their old pal Death (William Sadler) and new frenemy Dennis Caleb McCoy, a cyborg portrayed by the scene-stealing Anthony Carrigan, and structurally the film follows the same format as the previous two. Although greenscreen backgrounds have replaced matte paintings, Face the Music feels of a piece with Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, which means regardless of these films being slight, they still manage to push the characters forward. While there is a fair share of nostalgia to be had, especially given how easily Winters and Reeves slip back into their roles, and how likable Lundy-Paine and Weaving are in their imitations of the two, Face the Music manages to be more fulfilling than simply a trip down memory lane.
Bill and Ted don’t just have to pass a history test or win the battle of the bands in Face the Music. They have to deal with the insurmountable pressures of growing up, getting old and the weight of responsibilities that come with that, without losing themselves. Bill and Ted aren’t suddenly going to become middle-aged men who put away childish things and tune into CNN rather than tune guitars. But they do have the chance to change how they see themselves, not as an endpoint to universal harmony but as a beginning.
Bill & Ted Face the Music looks at how the weight and responsibility of taking care of the world isn’t the burden of two people, be they two middle-aged rockers, or a president and vice president, but of everyone. It’s so simple, yet it feels like something in need of repeating now more than ever. Bill and Ted’s mantra, “Be excellent to each other, and party on,” has long been words to live by for fans of the series. It seems their words have been regarded as simultaneous actions. But Bill & Ted Face the Music, without explicitly saying so, treats them as steps: “be excellent to each other,” and then, providing we do that, we’re left with an outcome, a world in which we can “party on.” So, in accordance to the two great ones and for the sake of our future, “be excellent to each other.”
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