It’s funny to look back and see which films have endured. It’s not always the polished, complex or ‘important’ films which end up being remembered or actually important to pop culture. In some cases, a film can become a classic purely based on how enjoyable it is, regardless of how seriously it takes itself. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) is one such film. In the years since it’s release, it has has gained a considerable cult following and has become a seminal comedy. At the time, none could have predicted that this simple-minded time travel story would be so endlessly quotable, so endearingly wholesome and even spawn a franchise. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as Bill and Ted have rightfully earned their place as iconic heroes, so it’s a joy to see them return in Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020).
It has been 29 years since Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991). Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) are now married to their 15th century princesses Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes). They live in the suburbs with their 24-year-old daughters Theadora “Thea” Preston (Samara Weaving) and Billie Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine), who have grown up to be highly optimistic, musically passionate slackers just like their dads. In all that time Bill and Ted are yet to write the song which will unite the world, as has been prophesied for them. Bill and Ted’s band, Wyld Stallyns, is all set to hang up the guitars, but a message from the future is delivered by Kelly (Kristen Schaal) who warns that if they don’t write and perform the song by 7:17pm, time and space will collapse on itself.
As expected, the actual mechanics of the time travelling and dimension hopping are of little consequence. Bill and Ted jump from one possible future to the next in search of the song, and then jump to another before the viewer has time to assess the damage. If the audience were to stop and break down the logic, very little would make any sense. However, this is the third Bill and Ted adventure, so if the audience is getting bent out of shape about the time travel rules, they aren’t in the correct mindset. None of it holds up to any science fiction standard, but it’s no use getting hung up on the details since the film itself certainly hasn’t. Face the Music thankfully understands the silly appeal of the previous films, as the characters go on their ‘excellent adventure’ like it’s no big deal.
The bonkers plot provides all the silliness and cheeky laughs you want. There’s plenty of fun to be had seeing Bill and Ted interact with themselves across multiple timelines. Similarly, the subplot involving young Billie and Thea is essentially an affectionate retread of the original film and captures the spirit of the earlier cult classic. It’s so effective and enjoyable that you may find yourself checking your watch whenever we cut away to a different subplot. While it’s definitely a huge plus having the new characters be even more likeable than the old, the extra effort put towards their story does make some of the third act revelations a little predictable. To be clear, this isn’t a detrimental issue as it’s not trying all that hard to cover up the reveals.
Despite this, it’s actually refreshing to see a legacy sequel that doesn’t try to overstay its welcome by bloating itself to an excessive runtime. Additionally, Director Dean Parisot preserves the unique charm of the series by ensuring the various worlds, visual effects and performances are presented like a low budget cartoon. That being said, the amount of subplots and characters to keep track of rivals most novels. It’s not hard to follow who’s who and who’s doing what, but there’s only so much you can fit into 90 minutes. Story threads such as the princesses are not given the same level of attention, resulting in their adventures essentially being wrapped up off screen. What we get of them provides some good laughs, so it would have been nice to see more of them.
The cast of characters is large, colourful and provide plenty of belly laughs. When music enthusiasts travel through time, you can bet that many famous musicians will feature as key players. As the list of great historical figures pile up, you can’t help but smile at how lovingly they have been brought to life. There’s a wonderful sense of optimism throughout the narrative as these dissonant characters meet and work with each other. This is even true of returning favourites such as Death played by William Sadler, who hasn’t lost a step since his appearance in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. The script gathers its many heroes together rather tenuously, but it’s mostly worth it when the climax hits. For fans of the series, it’ll feel like a homecoming.
This brings us to Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as the titular heroes. Winter hasn’t been acting much since his last appearance as Bill, opting instead to focus on directing. However, Keanu Reeves has become a pop culture icon, making film history in the Matrix (1999-2003) and John Wick (2014-2019) trilogies. Even though it has been three decades since their previous adventure, Alex Winter melts back into the roll of Bill. While it’s true that time has passed, Winter leans into it and brings Bill back to life with all the “wisdom” which comes from age. Sadly, Reeves hasn’t transitioned back into the role of Ted as easily. Reeves is a charming performer who is clearly having fun whenever he’s on screen, but his impressive career is hanging over him. He is no longer the funny goofball he was back in the 1980s, as he is now an incredibly cool dude. Regrettably, this means that Winters is left to shoulder most of the Bill and Ted dynamic on his own.
With the constant stream of reboots, remakes and sequels, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for Bill and Ted to make their return. Happily, Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) recaptures most of what made the original films so charming. The years have not dulled the inherent silliness and unflinching optimism that Bill and Ted can bring. It’s not going to play well to anyone who isn’t already a fan, but if audiences want to take the chance they will probably have a light and joyful experience.
Best way to watch it: With your brain turned off.