Bill & Ted Face the Music movie review: not-so-strange things are afoot…

MaryAnn’s quick take: The chill zen and goofy charm of GenX’s philosopher-fools remains intact, but their latest adventure is too familiar a retelling. Still, “Be excellent to each other” won’t ever not be worth heeding.
I’m “biast” (pro): big Bill & Ted fan
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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I thought I’d better do a rewatch of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey before we got Bill & Ted Face the Music. I hadn’t seen either of the earlier films in ages, maybe not since they were new, and I remember really enjoying them, what with me being a GenX child of the 80s and all. But I approached them again now with some trepidation. Would I would still see them as most excellent, or would I now find them totally heinous?

It’s possible that the warm hug of nostalgia both movies provided overly influenced me: I graduated high school two years before Bill and Ted do here, and their suburban Los Angeles habitat wasn’t too different from my suburban New York one. Bill and Ted are the clown princes of my adolescence — nay, they are the philosopher-fools. Their chill zen in the face of their own ignorance has always been perversely inspiring to me, who lives in her head, who has a hard time shutting her brain off to sleep at night, and who, should I live to be 150, will never tire of shoving more knowledge into my noggin. It’s difficult to imagine what life would be like if I weren’t like this, but the profound serenity, the literally simple joy of Bill and Ted are, if nothing else, a nice fantasy.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure Alex Winter Keanu Reeves
Party on, always, dudes.

Both movies, it transpires, held up fairly well for me, with the deep and abiding love between doofus best pals Bill S. Preston, Esq (Alex Winter: The Borrowers), and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves: Toy Story 4, Always Be My Maybe) the charming heart that got me over a few problematic bumps. Calling each other “fag” when they express their mutual affection? Actually being awarded princesses when they finish their quest… princesses who instantly adore them? Part of me shrugs that stuff off with “Well, 80s…” and a sigh, but another part is cringing and facepalming.

Still, never mind. The irresistible grand goofiness of 1989’s Excellent Adventure renders irrelevant the fact that none of it makes a lick of sense even on its own terms. The boys engage in massively irresponsible time travel (man, how the Doctor would scold them!) to gather up great historical figures in order to pass a make-or-break high-school final exam, and somehow they go from total ignoramuses about all of these personages to profound understandings of them with no apparent learning process beyond shepherding them around the San Dimas shopping mall, the educational value of which seems dubious. But so what? Even more miraculous than the silliness is how the movie’s sentiment is truly touching without ever being sappy. (This hails from the time before Hollywood stopped being able to satisfyingly blend the comedic and the tender.) The notion that Bill and Ted’s genuine niceness might be the basis for a future utopian society — that’s who lent the boys the time machine — is lovely. Their mantra of “Be excellent to each other” won’t ever not be worth heeding. (Also true of their use of double and triple negatives, though I’m still trying to unravel the meaning of “non non non heinous.” Is that too many nons? Or not enough?)

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure Alex Winter Keanu Reeves
Back when strange (and unprecedented) things were afoot at the Circle K…

If Excellent Adventure is like Idiocracy but sweet, 1991’s Bogus Journey ups the ante in a way akin to how Back to the Future Part II did: it’s the rare sequel that’s better than its source movie, but also just plain bonkers like how studio movies hardly ever dare to be. I’d go so far as to venture that it’s one of the most deliciously odd teen comedies ever. It’s deeply existential, probing matters of life and death, the nature of good and evil, and the necessity of seizing the moment in the face of unfathomable eternity. It references Powell and Pressburger’s Stairway to Heaven. It invokes Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, for pete’s sake, with Bill and Ted challenging Death (William Sadler: Freeheld, Machete Kills) in the afterlife to a game for their very souls. Not chess, mind: Battleship. Then Clue. Then Twister. And then Bogus Journey gets even more deeply bizarre from there.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure blu-ray

If you need to catch up, both films are available on all the usual streaming services and on physical media.

Excellent Adventure
[Amazon US: DVD|VOD] [Amazon Canada DVD] [Amazon UK: DVD|VOD] [iTunes US] [iTunes Canada] [iTunes UK]

Bogus Journey
[Amazon US: DVD|VOD] [Amazon Canada DVD] [Amazon UK: DVD|VOD] [iTunes US] [iTunes Canada] [iTunes UK]

And now — 30 years and an eternity later — we are granted Bill & Ted Face the Music. Screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon (Now You See Me 2, Imagine That) of the first two movies return, which feels like a rare boon of creative continuity: Face the Music springs from the same demented minds that spawned these lovable losers-slash-saviors of humanity. But where to go after Bogus Journey? Spoiler for the 1991 movie: It ends with the boys having fulfilled their destiny of bringing harmony and tranquility for all humanity: world peace has been achieved, nuclear weapons have been dismantled, and Bill and Ted’s band, Wyld Stallyns, has even played on Mars. In the early 1990s! We were well into an alternate universe at the end of this non non non bogus journey.

Bill and Ted Face the Music Keanu Reeves Alex Winter
Ted and Bill in 2020: reduced to wedding singers.

But in Face the Music, set today, the world looks very much like our world today looks. No one mentions 9/11, endless wars, climate disasters, the orange tinpot in the White House, or anything of the sort, but the overall vibe that the movie dances around is this: The world of 2020 is in such a shitty state because Bill and Ted have, in fact, so far failed to achieve their destiny as peace-bringers inspiring global partying-on and eternal chill. The brief flowering of such in the 1990s was but a passing fluke. And the news from the future — brought not by Rufus (RIP George Carlin) but his daughter, Kelly (the fab Kristen Schaal: My Spy, Boundaries) — is worse. The now middle-aged and professionally washed-up Bill and Ted must save not only the future but “reality as we know it.” If they do not finally write the song that unites humanity forever, the universe itself will be destroyed. (I presume this is one of those fixed temporal points, unalterable no matter what time-travel chicanery one gets up to, that the Doctor oft speaks of.)

Bill and Ted Face the Music Brigette Lundy-Paine Kid Cudi Samara Weaving
Most non-bogus offspring (with Kid Cudi) to the rescue. Maybe.

What this means, though, is that, basically, Matheson and Solomon have decided to retell a tale that has already been told rather than find some new direction to take the guys in. Bill and Ted, unable to replicate their musical success of the past, hustle through time trying to steal the humanity-saving song from their future selves, which — again, but more annoyingly this time — makes no sense on its on merits. Because if they willen have not performed the song in about an hour and a half, everything ends. So the song must have existed from almost the immediate future, but the guys keep going further and further into the future to find it. (No spoilers! I shan’t reveal whether or not they do find it in the future. I’m saying that if they were going to find it in the future, they should have found it, like, tomorrow. And there’s no hint in the script that it is merely Bill and Ted’s cheerful stupidity that prevents them from realizing this.) Meanwhile, their layabout, beats-loving 20something best-friend daughters — Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine: Downsizing, Irrational Man) and Thea (Samara Weaving: Monster Trucks, Mystery Road) — are separately traveling through history gathering together an awesome band to perform the song once their dads have it. (I’ll leave you to discover which legendary musicians they gather.) Then, for Reasons, they also end up in the afterlife; Death makes another appearance.

It all feels very familiar. Almost tediously so. Nothing about it made me laugh until a full hour into the movie, and then only in passing. The daughters are as goofily charming as their dads still are — this is the saving grace of the movie — and are perhaps the first such doofusy female pair to appear in a (comparatively) big-budget studio film. But I’m not sure they feel like real young people of the 2020s in the same way that Bill and Ted felt like relatively authentic, only slightly caricatured 1980s teens. I mean, I’m sure Face the Music isn’t aimed at today’s youngsters but at nostalgic Xers like myself, who I’m sure would like to think their kids idolize them so much that they are like little spiritual clones of their parents. (I have no kids, so I have no stake in such a dynamic.) But how much more intriguing could Bill and Ted’s return have been if they’d had to contend with genuine-feeling Millennials rather than these pale Xer xeroxes?

Bill and Ted Face the Music Keanu Reeves William Sadler Alex Winter
How’s it hangin’, Death?

Or! What if Bill and Ted’s princess-wives (here played by, respectively, Jayma Mays [American Made, The Smurfs 2] and Erinn Hayes [They Came Together]) — who are, recall, transplanted from six centuries in the past — were dealing with more significant issues than the fact that their husbands seem more into each other than them? There’s potentially so much to unpack in the web of these relationships, and yet the thing I am left with here is my usual feminist rage — which I’m really exhausted by and wish I didn’t have to engage with so regularly — at the fact that, suddenly, Bill and Ted’s female partners are 15 years younger than them, when in the earlier movies, they were played (by different actors in all three films) by women who were around the same age as them. Are there no 50something actresses who could have played the princess-wives? (Of course there are!)

Sure, I can see — on an intellectual level — something something about how GenX feels ineffectual and sidelined, how we’re looking to our kids to fix all that is wrong with the world that we failed to take real action on. I get that. But it feels like a bit more reality than Bill and Ted were ever meant to bring us.

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chrysanth
chrysanth
Sat, Aug 29, 2020 10:52pm

I’m looking forward to seeing this. I was totally taken by surprise that I enjoyed their previous adventures when I caught them on the small screen a few years after their theatrical releases, especially Bogus, due to their interaction with the engagingly child-like Death. If this new outing captures any of that earlier charm and innocence (and boy, do we need that now), I won’t be disappointed.
Be excellent to each other and wear a mask.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  chrysanth
Mon, Aug 31, 2020 7:25pm

Why would anyone downvote this comment?

It’s because of the “wear a mask” thing, isn’t it?

Bill and Ted would definitely wear masks.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Aug 31, 2020 8:31pm

The downvote appears to be from the writer of the comment itself. Perhaps they were trying to upvote themselves. Or just really conflicted about what they wrote. :-)

chrysanth
chrysanth
reply to  Bluejay
Tue, Sep 01, 2020 3:32am

I downvoted myself? Must get used to typing on my mobile; the downvote arrow and edit link are very close together and I did edit the post. 😀 Sorry!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  chrysanth
Tue, Sep 01, 2020 11:14am

Oh dear, I didn’t even see that it was you who downvoted yourself!

To make matters worse, I tried to see if I could, as moderator, delete downvotes, and I accidentally downvoted your comment myself. (And there’s no way to delete them!) Sorry. :-(

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Sep 01, 2020 11:49am

It’s not possible to re-click the downvote button to remove your own downvote? I can do that with accidental upvotes (tested it just now). Let me see if I can downvote this comment and then remove it…

EDIT: Huh, looks like I can. So you can remove your own accidental votes, at least. EXCELLEENNNT! *air guitar*

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Tue, Sep 01, 2020 11:59am

Yes, that worked for me too!

chrysanth
chrysanth
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Sep 12, 2020 8:28am

For me also. “pshew”

Bluejay
Bluejay
Tue, Sep 01, 2020 12:37pm

Looking forward to seeing this at some point (perhaps after rewatching the first two films, as you have). How is Reeves as Ted, after all these years? I’m so used to seeing him play grim action heroes that I’d nearly forgotten he got his big break playing a silly goofball. Does the role still fit?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Sep 03, 2020 11:39am

Yeah, Reeves is terrific. No hint of John Wick here at all. :-)

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Sep 04, 2020 5:52am

I’m tempted to ask about whether Reeves channels Neo this time out but what’s really weird is seeing Reeves as Ted Logan and confusing him at first glance with Professor Snape. I really am getting old…

And I really don’t want to think about Sadler’s first line in this flick….

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Fri, Sep 04, 2020 12:22pm

I’m tempted to ask about whether Reeves channels Neo

Nope.

Jay
Jay
Mon, Jul 05, 2021 8:08pm

As a feminist I’m surprised you didn’t complain how leaders were all women; equality right? Oh that’s right, you’re not looking for that.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jay
Sat, Jul 10, 2021 9:39am

So, if men have been leaders for millennia, we’d need millennia of women leaders before we reached any “equality.”

But that’s right, you don’t understand feminism at all.

Jay
Jay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Jul 10, 2021 8:32pm

If it was equal footing between men and women that’s feminism.

But that’s right, you don’t understand feminism at all.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jay
Sun, Jul 11, 2021 11:59am

When we get to a situation where leaders are always portrayed as only women almost universally across pop culture AND women in the real world dominate leadership, then you can complain about a lack of equality.

If you would like to learn more about women’s representation onscreen, you can check out my Where Are the Women? project.

But I suspect you’re only interested in thinking you’ve “owned” a feminist. Instead, you’ve only demonstrated your ignorance and your trollishness.

Jay
Jay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Jul 11, 2021 6:01pm

We are talking about the movie. You are trying to reach an area we are not talking about. Okay ‘feminist’ did you enroll yourself and encourage others in military draft? No? Let me know when you have thanks! Equality!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jay
Mon, Jul 12, 2021 10:17am

I’m literally talking about women’s representation onscreen, in this and other movies.

And yes, I DID try to sign myself up for the draft when I turned 18. I was laughed away, because I was female. But I felt strongly that if my brothers had to do that, so should I.

You’re really quite pathetic. Or perhaps you’ve very young. Whatever the case, you need to educate yourself.