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Film Review: ‘Bill and Ted Face the Music’ is a Long-Overdue and Triumphant Return

Courtesy of Orion Pictures

(This review was previously published on our sister site ScreenRadar.com).

Early one Friday afternoon back in 1991, I made it my mission to beat the crowds to the first showing on the opening weekend of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the sequel to the surprise 1989 hit, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Upon entering the theater I noticed only a small crowd spattered throughout the theater. I did it. I beat the crowd. In reality, the crowds never came, not that weekend or any. That weekend’s box office was paltry, crushed by another time travel film, “Terminator 2.

I held out hope, but my dreams for a sequel quickly faded. Sure, there were talks here and there about a follow-up, but they always fell through. That is until a few years back when a period some call the “Keanaissance” occurred, a wave of renewed Reeves fandom driven by his work in the John Wick film series. This career momentum provided the opportunity for the decade long sequel rumors to shift into high gear. Now, nearly 30 years later, against all odds, the sequel many of us have been waiting for, Bill and Ted Face the Music, is finally here.

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted Face the Music. Courtesy of Orion Pictures

Let me start by saying this will be a slightly different review for me than you may be used to. I love the franchise, as I believe I made clear, and I certainly do not want to ruin it for any other fans who may have not seen it yet. So no matter what some of you may have seen in the trailer, I will be purposely be omitting many details. Feel free to address them in the comments.

Face the Music picks up almost three decades after the events of Bogus Journey, where we find our heroes, Bill and Ted (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) of the once-legendary band Wyld Stallions, not performing in a massive arena, but rather playing a small wedding for some familiar faces. It turns out that all these years later the song that the “Two Great Ones” were destined to write and unite the world (and bring mini golf scores way down) has yet to be written.

As the years have passed, each attempt to produce the world-changing tune has led to diminishing results and strained relationships with everyone from Death (the excellent William Sadler) to Bill’s Dad aka Chief Logan (Hal Landon Jr.) and even with their wives, the Princesses, Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes). The only whole-hearted support coming from their daughters, Thea “Theadora” Preston (Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine).

An urgent trip to the future with Kelly (Kristen Schall), the daughter of their old guide, Rufus (George Carlin), exposes a grim future where Bill and Ted’s marriages have failed… oh yeah, it also threatens to cause time and space to collapse on itself. No biggie. Two generations or Preston/Logans must travel time on simultaneous missions to save their marriages and to prevent the destruction of the universe. Will this turn out to be an excellent adventure or a bogus journey?

After so many years have passed, the most pressing concerns, as with any sequels, are can the film reproduce the magic of the originals, and even more so, will the characters still work in today’s world? Much to my relief, this outing not only captures the spirit of the first two entries it actually expands on it, delivering a more mature and heartfelt entry that retains the general optimism of the series. Much credit goes to Ed Solomon & Chris Matheson, the returning writers of the first two films, whose script shows reverence to the original characters while not being afraid to have them grow to some degree. These guys obviously know and love these characters and it shows. Director, Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) finds the perfect balance between the familiar and the fresh, avoiding the trap of getting too lost in the nostalgia that can strip sequels of their own identity. Plenty of callbacks are scattered throughout, but it never feels like a playback of the characters’ greatest hits.

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted Face the Music. Courtesy of Orion Pictures

The version of Bill and Ted we find in Music are more than just older clones of the duo from the previous films. Sure they retain much of their goofball vibe with plenty of air guitar, high fives, and slight infantile cluelessness, but the film allows them to age, acquiring a new kindness and maturity. It all feels much more natural than expected. Instead of caricatures, B&T are characters who have evolved even if they still use a lot of the same gnarly 80s SoCal lingo.

In his return to the role of Bill, Winter does not miss a beat, fitting into his role with ease. Reeves on the other hand feels a bit more jaded, rarely flashing his Ted’s trademark clueless smile accompanied by a tilted head hair flop. His seriousness floats somewhere between Ted and John Wick here, without all the excessive gunplay, of course. Ted now carries the weight of his new situation. Luckily, overall he delivers enough of his old charm to not damper the film ethos. Even if he is older and somewhat wiser, I still would have preferred about 15% more classic Ted added to his performance.

Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine in Bill and Ted Face the Music. Courtesy of Orion Pictures

In truth, Reeves is out Ted-ed by his daughter Billie, Brigette Lundy-Paine, who embodies the Logan spirit, delivering her lines with much of the same floppy head enthusiasm her dad had in the past. She is a joy to watch here. Samara Weaving (of 2019’s Ready or Not) as Bill’s daughter, Thea, carries less of her father’s mannerismsbut together they deliver enough classic affable B&T vibes to give me hope for a follow-up film starring the daughters on their own outlandish adventure. Let’s make it happen Hollywood.

The exhilarating quests are full of surprises that reveal some old, familiar, and new faces through space and time. While a handful of actors return to their roles, others, like the Princesses, have been recast. This is something that many will not even notice because their characters had never been fleshed before. Here, Joanna and Elizabeth are given more to do here besides a couple of scenes most of it feels underexplored. The dependably funny Schall as Rufus’ daughter along with her mother (Holland Taylor) have a great mother/daughter dynamic. While they do not fill the enormous void left by the passing of Carlin, they admirably deliver some moving and subtle closure to the character.

There are a handful of other notable (shall I say rockin’) characters whom I will let you meet on your own. Much of the fun comes from not knowing when and where the adventurers will travel to next. One new addition I must reveal here though is the one played by Anthony Carrigan, who steals every scene in HBO’s Barry and does the same here. In a film where a heavier tone leaves it shorter on laughs than previous entries, his Dennis Caleb McCoy delivers some of the film’s lightest and funniest moments. Dennis is destined to be many fans’ favorite new character. Like Death (who is used here a little too sparingly for my taste) before him in Bogus Journey, he is the character we did not know we needed.

Keanu Reeves, Bill Sadler, and Alex Winter in Bill and Ted Face the Music. Courtesy of Orion Pictures

Face the Music bites off more than its predecessors which leads to a somewhat slow start as everything from the 30-year hiatus is established. But, once it gets moving it is an energetic, thrilling ride that knows its place. While some sequels try too hard to raise the stakes, B&T does so effortlessly while never looking desperate to outdo its predecessors. The special effects receive a fitting upgrade while never feeling out of place, even retaining the classic zapping-electricity look the time-traveling phone booth had always used. Parisot wisely chooses to complement the series instead of trying to top it, avoiding making this a CGI laden mess. Overall, the is a very comfortable and welcome fit into the series.

Like the other Bill and Ted’s films, the science behind the time travel is probably full of holes, but if you are analyzing that too deeply then you are focused on the playbill while missing the symphony. Just enjoy the bodacious and wild ride and let its charms engulf you. There is subtly much more going on here than time travel.

One of the most admirable qualities of the series is how it has evolved, unafraid to take some risks. They elevate a relatively weak and goofy premise to deliver three satisfying and sure to be beloved films. With Face the Music, Bill and Ted take us on yet another most triumphant journey, while ultimately providing and underlying pleasantness (which is much needed these days) as it explores friendship, family and the power of music.

While the theaters are going to be empty once again (thanks for nothing pandemic), I can only hope that the couch seats are full as the film premieres on streaming services. Maybe, just maybe, we will see another Bill and Ted film and when it arrives I will again beat the crowd. Let’s just hope it does not take 30 years. Until then, be excellent to each other and…

SCORE: ★★★

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