One of my favorite movies growing up was Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). The goofiness of two “dudes” who would eventually be responsible for saving the world having to pass history class first was just fun, and it still is. Two years later, the sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, fully embraced the absurd, and it sent our heroes to Hell and back with its premise as a promise that they would eventually save us all. Now, in 2020, we have presumably the final film in the series, Bill & Ted Face The Music, and it grapples with that idea of “eventually” and whether or not one should throw in the towel after believing in something that never seems to materialize. With so much time passing between those two films and this one, I know many who don’t know how to take this one: is it excellent, or is it completely bogus?
As the trailer shows, William “Bill” S. Preston, Esq. & Theodore “Ted” Logan (played just like you remember them by Alex Winter & Keanu Reeves) are the best of friends and have been holding on to that promise that they will somehow unite the world through their music; still, after all this time, it just hasn’t happened yet. Their former accomplishments are behind them, and their current circumstances don’t look great. Their marriages to the beautiful princesses, Joanna & Elizabeth (now played by Jayma Mayes & Erinn Hayes), are increasingly strained, and their music and belief in their potential isn’t connecting with anyone beyond their chip-off-the-old-block daughters, Billie and Thea (played enthusiastically by Samara Weaving & Bridget Lundy-Paine). It’s been years since Rufus originally tasked them, but his daughter, Kelly (Kristen Schaal, ably standing in for the late George Carlin), puts them on the path to finally fulfilling their end of the bargain with the cosmos with just over an hour to do so. No pressure.
As far as a sequel goes, I can think of few movies that fit alongside each other, despite the passage of time and difference of directors, as these three movies now do. I know they won’t fit everyone’s tastes, but they do mine. It took over a decade of production work to get this film made, but I’m so glad it happened. The series is based is a mashup of music, interdimensional travel, and absurdity, and this film encapsulates that energy perfectly. Even though some roles were recast, it’s fun to see several original faces as well, Death especially (played by William Sadler, who doesn’t skip a beat). While the first and second film looked more toward the past and the present, this film is focused on an unknown future, and it gives the film a zany suspense and momentum that was consistently engaging. Many films today can’t seem to run below two hours, but this film confidently knows how to not overstay its welcome.
Content-wise, the series has always felt almost completely appropriate for general audiences with an occasional line or two of inappropriate dialogue. The same is true here. Years ago, the cable cut on TV would fix those issues, and kids would roll on enjoying it. Nowadays, they will just be left in as imitable phrases. Beyond that, the films treat Hell as just a place to be with a scene change, which is zany in context, but it could be problematic for some viewers. We’ve also been to Heaven prior in Bogus Journey, but the series’ handling of eternity is more Tex Avery than textual. I’m fine in understanding that, but some won’t be. Still, I can’t recall a live action film in some time made knowingly for adults that could be watchable by many ages.
All-in-all, what surprised me the most was that this film had meaning behind all of its crazy, and the story it told wound in and out of itself while still delivering a clearly felt message of hope, unity, family, friendship, believing in yourself when few do, and the universal joy that comes from music. That sounds like more than we should expect from a movie like this, but it delivered it all while also being the fun nostalgia ride it was expected to be. Was it excellent? Totally! No matter how long it took to produce, the journey led to a satisfying conclusion, and it’s been a wonderful ride overall. Also, stay for the after-credits scene. It’s kind of perfect in distilling what these movies have always been about.