Surprise! Bill and Ted Face the Music is actually pretty excellent

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves return for a sequel that does the originals proud, for once.

I think I’m exactly the wrong age for Bill and Ted in that I was slightly too young to see them when they first came out and slightly too old to start appreciating them when they became established as cult classics. That’s not to say that I don’t like the films. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is surprisingly still fresh for a 30-year-old movie in which air guitar and general late-’80s bonerisms run rampant — but they have no particular nostalgic connection for me, which is often a key part of the appeal of these belated sequels. Bill and Ted also has the particularity of being a film that has amassed such a cult following that many of its quotes and elements have made it into the fabric of pop culture, yet it isn’t overpraised and overanalyzed to the point of becoming overly dull and familiar. 

This gives the 30-years-in-the-making sequel Bill and Ted Face the Music both an advantage and a disadvantage: the advantage is that the franchise isn’t so completely engrained in the culture that even minute changes will trigger fanboy shitstorms across the entire world; the disadvantage is that because it’s a beloved property no one is frothing at the mouth about, it could easily rest on its laurels and just hit every recognizable element and call it a day. Thankfully, Bill and Ted Face the Music is very much in line with the other two films: a lovably goofy, wholesome and just-weird-enough comedy. It’s also perhaps the most agile sequel-cum-reboot in recent years, though even that comes with a few caveats.

William “Bill” S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) have aged considerably, but they haven’t changed much since we last saw them. Still married to medieval princesses (Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes), they are now the fathers of two 20-something slacker daughters (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine) and remain the frontmen of the ailing Wyld Stallyns, who are all but defunct. Their close friendship and refusal to get jobs has put on a strain on their familial relationships, but something even more sinister is about to put a strain on the entire world. The deceased Rufus’s daughter (Kristen Schaal) appears from the future to give Bill and Ted an ultimatum: they must write the world-changing song that was prophesied years before or risk ending the world.

This, in turn, leads Bill and Ted on a wild goose chase through the time-space continuum as they attempt to locate the future version of themselves that has written the song and bring said song back to the present. Meanwhile, their music-buff daughters have instead taken it upon themselves to go back in time and gather up a supergroup to help in the creation of said band. Oh, and also, Rufus’s wife (Holland Taylor) has commissioned a very nervous robot (Anthony Carrigan) to hunt down Bill and Ted and kill them if and when they fail at their task.

As I posited in my interview with Jemaine Clement last week, it’s always suspect when a movie sets itself up as needing to contain a work of art that changes the world. Thankfully, there’s a lot more than that going on in Bill and Ted Face the Music, which proves to weave almost as complex a tapestry of time-warp fuckery as Tenet. It also allows the screenwriters, director Dean Parisot and the leads to maximize the types of characters and silliness they can bring to the table. Much of the Bill and Ted storyline involves the two characters meeting future variations on themselves, which allows for plenty of hamming it up (and an opportunity for Reeves to finally improve upon the truly historical bad British accent he wielded in Bram Stoker’s Dracula), while the daughters’ plotline essentially indulges in the historical-figure-collecting of the first film, roping in time-travel expert Kid Cudi along the way.

Rewatching the first film to prepare for the sequel, what struck me the most is that it has an almost total lack of irony or mean-spiritedness; it doesn’t really outline villains as much as it does problems to be solved; the film never really revels in the absurdity of its premise; and it never really positions any of the characters as less than. (There’s a homophobic slur in Excellent Adventure, for those keeping count, but it’s not exactly hate speech in the way it’s used.) Although one could argue that the things that the Bill and Ted movies paved the way for are probably not the most shining beacons of culture (I’m looking at you, Dude Where’s My Car and the entirety of the Darkness’s career), the maxim “be excellent to each other” proves to have extremely long legs.

But being excellent to each other is not something that happens too much in 2020, and even our most progressive studio comedies these days tend to focus at least to some degree on humiliation. That’s fine — humiliation is funny, too, but it’s not very Bill and Ted. One wouldn’t be going too far to assume that a sequel with the logline “Bill and Ted have daughters now” would be about their millennial daughters thinking their dads are lame and looking at their phone while rolling their eyes, but Bill and Ted Face the Music does a great job of transposing the guileless, harmlessly stupid humour of the first one.

Granted, it can get a little cheesy with its message, the last 10 minutes get sort of mucked up (I won’t spoil it but let me say this: the aforementioned song that changes the world is featured), and it takes a while to adapt to Weaving and Lundy-Paine’s spin on the iconic deliveries of their on-screen fathers but Bill and Ted Face the Music proves to be a great surprise. When everyone expects listless cash-grabs, it can be hard to resist taking the money and running; Bill and Ted Face the Music turns out to be one of the rare comedy sequels that actually builds on the original. ■

Bill and Ted Face the Music opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Aug. 28. Watch the trailer below:

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted Face the Music

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