Imagine, if you will, that you’re a teenager sitting at your local hangout, a Circle K, perhaps, when someone drops out of the sky and tells you they are from the future and that you’re destined to be the foundation of a peaceful future. Even moreso, what if, only a few years later, you faced off against an evil robot version of yourself who killed you, forcing you to go on a journey through hell and heaven, to team up with Death, himself, and Martian scientists, culminating in a time battle unlike any before? Would you be able to maintain your calm? Your focus? After having survived these events, would you have it within you to still live up to your foretold legacy? This is the essence of the long-gestating Bill & Ted Face The Music, a story that puts a definite pin in the 31-year journey of two sweet kids who just wanted to form a band and ended up bringing the world together in the process.
29 years after Bill S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter), and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) won the Battle of the Bands contest in San Dimas, California, and their band, Wyld Stallyns, played a sold out show at the Grand Canyon, the most triumphant duo find themselves playing weddings and Taco Nights at local restaurants as they’ve been continually unsuccessful at writing the song that will unite the world. The constant weight of their legacy laid on their shoulders not only grows heavier by the day for them, but also for their steadfast wives, Princess Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Princess Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes). As if things couldn’t get more troubling, Rufus’s (George Carlin) daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) arrives to tell them they have 75 minutes to write the song before time folds in on itself (that’s right, this movie is done in (somewhat) real time). The smaller stakes of the two previous films disappear as this ultimate tale requires Bill and Ted to finally face their destiny head-on.
It’s fair to say that the Bill & Ted films played fast and loose with logic in the past. Beethoven’s (Clifford David) depicted as hearing the music coming from the Casio keyboards in the mall, Napoleon’s (Terry Camilleri) shown eating ice cream for the first time, and somehow the virtuous duo get to give their obviously longer-than-seven-minutes history presentation even after Billy the Kid (Dan Shor) fires his gun in a crowded high school auditorium. This doesn’t even get into the obvious paradoxical nature of people from a future in which the Wyld Stallyns are global heroes have to help the band graduate from high school. This, of course, doesn’t even get into any of the aspects of their untimely deaths in Bogus Journey. But no one really watches the Bill & Ted movies for the logic. We watch them for the enormous hearts of Bill and Ted. We watch them, and continue to watch over three decades later, because the wholesomeness of the films centers on a single core idea: be excellent to each other. If one were to drill down into both prior adventures, Excellent and Bogus are not the world-saving films a quick synopsis would suggest, but smaller stake films in which addressing the immediate problem (passing history/winning a local battle of the bands competition) resonates to address the larger one. This is where Face The Music adapts toward a new way of telling its story, by asking what happens when there are no more small stakes, no more minor hurdles keeping you from your destiny: do you face it or run? Though newcomers might struggle with the resonance of Face The Music, those who have waited to see Bill and Ted return will undoubtedly find themselves overcome with emotion as series writers Chris Matheson (A Goofy Movie) and Ed Solomon (Men in Black), in partnership with director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest), craft a culminating story that finally puts the Wyld Stallyns’s legacy to rest, even as it keeps its eye on the horizon.
One thing you’ll want to know is whether the trailers have given everything away. The short answer is no. A good trailer teases out content to garner interest, but shouldn’t give away the whole story. So put away whatever notions you have about what you think you’ll see and just go with it. Not in a “turn your brain off” way, but as a means of reducing expectations and to allow the narrative to unfold before you. This is the only way the richness from the film will reach you. Like its predecessors, Face The Music possesses layers. In this case, it’s a story about what happens to us when the existential weight of our future comes crashing down around us, which time folding in on itself represents. As noted in the trailers, Bill and Ted come into contact with their alternate versions of themselves, something which happened in Excellent and was used nefariously in Bogus, after they decide to steal “The Song” from themselves after they’ve failed to write it. Whereas the messages of love and unity are more subtle in the prior two films, the quest to meet their future selves is treated as much as a gag and cinematic reference as it is an exploration of self. Amid jokes involving bulked-up convict versions of Bill and Ted, for example, Matheson and Solomon force the audience, via Bill and Ted, to confront that part of ourselves which feels beaten down by adulthood, the part that wonders if the promise we felt as kids, that strange combination of immortality and invincibility that comes with youth, was nothing more than a lie we told ourselves each day as our dreams seem further from us as adults than they did before. This is supported by Reeves’s physical performance of Ted as the aged rocker is far less spritely physically and spiritually versus Winter’s Bill who appears as spirited and effervescent as ever. At first, Reeves’s stiff performance seemed to be a bug, as though the actor’s years as John Wick had caught up to him. But, upon closer reflection, it’s a clear feature, signaling just how much Ted has internalized the pressures of a legacy they have yet to create. If one considers the nature of the prior two adventures and revisits them without the veil of nostalgia, neither Excellent and Bogus are the rip-roaring comedies we think of them as. Rather, the comedy comes naturally from the ridiculous situations Bill and Ted find themselves in time and again. Such is the same in Face The Music, which relies heavily on the exploration of responsibility to serve as setup for a variety of jokes, each landing with a surprising amount of poignancy.
Carrying the narrative burden with Winter and Reeves is a cast of new and old faces equal to the task of sending Wild Stallyns off in style. Mays and Hayes are the third set of actors to portray the princesses and are, by a slim margin, given more to do than before. Their story runs tangential to that of Bill and Ted, exploring the partnership between these out-of-time ladies and their strange knights and how their burden is equal to that of Bill and Ted. As their grown children Thea and Billie, Samara Weaving (Ready or Not) and Brigette Lundy-Paine (Downsizing) almost steal the entire show. The characters are more than just Bill and Ted’s kids, they are a strong musical duo in their own right and, much as these stories have been about supporting each other through thick and thin, it should come as no surprise that the next generation would jump in without even being asked. Most will likely find the Thea and Billie storyline more entertaining, partly because Weaving and Lundy-Paine are hilarious in their respective roles, capturing the spirit of the younger versions of their dads perfectly, but mostly because it’s not as emotionally weighted as the other portions. With that freedom comes an opportunity to explore not just history’s favorites (a la Excellent) but to dig into the roots of music history. Taking over the reigns as time guide, Schaal has a totally different energy to Carlin, but, to be fair, none could match him. Instead, she and her character offer a bridge between the present and the future, creating a tether which allows the audience easy access to returning character Great Leader, portrayed again by Holland Taylor (Legally Blonde). With the future at stake, the audience gets to see just how perilous the danger is that drives the narrative. As per usual, Taylor is perfect in the matronly roll, so much so that her chiding remarks at Bill and Ted run the risk of wounding some of the audience who relate to the boys. Also returning in significant roles are Hal Landon Jr. (Eraserhead) as Chief Logan and William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption) as Death. In their own respective ways, these characters are intrinsically linked to the rise and fall of Wyld Stallyns. Frankly, you can’t end the story without these characters showing up in some way. Face The Music possesses a larger active cast than any of the other two films (Kid Cudi as an arm chair conceptual physicist only scratches the surface), contains several moving narrative pieces, and contains references to the past that won’t alienate new audiences, all while delivering a profoundly satisfying conclusion to this irreverent cult classic series.
Rather than just rehash fan favorite moments, an easy move to try to placate a hungry audience, Matteson and Solomon dig deeper, following the natural threads left behind after Bogus. In so doing, Face The Music becomes as thoughtful as it is silly, as light-weight as it is poignant. More than that, as the world seems to become more divided by the day, here’s a film that reminds us of our connections. Of how we are all a part of the ties that bind the world together. That we are more than what we’re told we are. That our destiny is fluid and always under our own control, no matter what anyone else (even ourselves) may say. In closing, if there’s a single final thought to leave you with before you watch Bill and Ted conclude their most excellent series of adventures, it’s this: STATION!!!!!!
In select theaters and on VOD August 28th, 2020.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.