After an excellent adventure and a most bogus of journeys, we find ourselves at the end of the road. We see two characters that aren’t very smart, aren’t very different, or even well defined beyond the basic caricature of two losers playing bad rock music in their garage. We have been sold the premise of three entire films on the idea that they are going to save the world. This third one, released almost thirty years after the previous film, is about coming to terms with finality.
The Bill & Ted franchise was a pet project for creators Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and it creatively grew from small character ideas into a full-fledged story, even if the story was basic and nigh childish. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) was about two boys going through time to complete a history report. Sometimes the jokes were lacking, the plot was definitely a mess, but the audience enjoyed the pitch and also found themselves attached to Alex Winter’s Bill and Keanu Reeves’ Ted. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) was creatively a complete evolution for the franchise. It was way messier to be sure, but now our heroes braved through Heaven and Hell and faced Death itself in a much more unique and rewarding outing.
What’s particularly welcoming about Bill & Ted Face The Music is the context of the time it’s released in. Sure, there’s politics and global pandemics happening throughout 2020, but a better contrast to appreciate this film is found within other sequels released so much later into the popular culture’s lifespan. Again and again, we find films reviving dead franchises and sixty-year-old men working with material worse than they had with the same character decades prior. Movies like Dumb and Dumber To (2014) or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Open an IMDb page and look at how many there are. Eventually, we are going to see Keanu Reeves become Neo again for an upcoming fourth Matrix movie. No matter the intentions during production, films like these have a stink of cynicism to them. Why make something original when people like what’s familiar?
Thankfully, the material of Bill & Ted never took itself seriously, and there isn’t much cynicism to be found in Face the Music. Instead, this film attempts to sort of provide a thematic heart in retrospect to the rest of the franchise. It justifies itself with its message, and the message feels genuine because of the legacy of the characters.
Bill and Ted were supposed to unite the world in song. It’s been decades, and they still haven’t done it. Total bummer dude, now they’re losers who are on the brink of divorce with their medieval princess babes and reality is literally falling apart due to their failures. With an hour and a half to write the greatest song of all time (Tenacious D can relate to the pressure, I’m sure) Bill and Ted go into their personal future and face the ugly realities they may not like about themselves, just so they can steal the song from when they have wrote it. Still with me? Exposition is the primary dialect of our dialogue; Southern Californian is the secondary.
What is it like to meet your future self? I’m sure it’s as disappointing as meeting yourself any other time, and the film punctuates that as a major joke time and time again. Bogus Journey utilized practical effects, and the future Bill and Teds make great use of them as well. They also provide an opportunity for Reeves and Winter to have more fun with the roles, since their primary characters have been dialed way down in energy and attitude. Without the alternate versions, Reeves would almost seem like he’s not trying. Winter is the bright spot of the duo, possibly as a surprise to many.
What’s unique this time is the sub-plot of their daughters: “Thea” Preston, played by Samara Weaving, and “Billie” Logan, played by Brigette Lundy-Paine. The sub-plot features these two collecting musicians from around history, and it might be the best part of the film. A lot of love and care is given to these two, and this makes their sub-plot some of the best work in the trilogy. The middle of the film is incredibly strong, with a perfect combination between Bogus‘ dark comedy and Excellent‘s upbeat standard story progression. There are many supporting cast members in the film and tiny cameos, and like anything with this kind of quantity, there’s winners and losers in quality.
In this, the callbacks to previous films are also tastefully done. The Carlin tribute in particular is in good taste, and William Sadler’s Grim Reaper remains a fantastic performance and continues to have great chemistry with Reeves and Winter.
To talk about the bad, every single film in the trilogy really starts to fail near the third act. There’s an intense escalation of stakes, and it becomes unclear to the audience any tangible effects. We barely see what the world is like before it… gets weird, so when it does we aren’t really moved by anything around the core characters. Some of the intensive dialogue wears on you without a strong joke to punctuate it, and the punctuation fails occasionally. The entire film builds to a single climax, and the climax still feels underwhelming. That being said, it’s punctuated by a focus on music and community in a legitimately heartwarming way.
And some minor talk about the direction, it was directed by Dean Parisot. Parisot is probably most famous for Galaxy Quest (1999), and he’s a good choice to direct. I think Parisot does a solid job, there are points where I think he probably got the perfect take out of these performers and visually the film is somewhat interesting. It’s not particularly as creative as Bogus Journey, even in the scenes that could’ve really used it. There’s heavy use of green screen environments rather than engaging locales, and I don’t necessarily blame Parisot for these sorts of things.
Should this film have been made? I would say yes. It feels like an earned sequel, which feels so rare. Even if it’s not a masterpiece, none of them were. It was never about being a masterpiece. It was about learning how to be excellent to each other… And about partying on, dudes.