Back in 1989 a pair of intrepid teens, who were definitely not stoners, left San Dimas to embark on a most excellent adventure. Had Bill S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) used their time machine to travel to 2020, they likely would have been shocked by what they found. No, I don’t mean the once in a century pandemic, the global economic collapse, or even the massive popularity of Justin Bieber and Post Malone. Bill and Ted would have arrived in 2020 to find their lives on the brink. Had the young Wyld Stallyns dropped in on the event’s of Bill & Ted Face the Music would they have been disappointed in themselves?
It’s a fair question and one that is at the heart of a Bill & Ted trilogy capper 29 years in the making. For the first time in the franchise, the titular characters are forced to reckon with their legacy. A tough year for us all, 2020 finds the Wyld Stallyns in free fall. Death has left the band, the princesses are unhappy with the state of their marriages, Bill Ted have seen their careers fall off as they still struggle to write a song that will unite the world. Worse yet, the whole of time and space is collapsing in on itself as a result, giving B&T only hours to fulfill their long anticipated destiny.
It’s this ticking clock element that gives Face the Music the greatest stakes of any film in the franchise to date, and the greatest maturity. In the face of adversity, the Wyld Stallyns do what they always have, travel through time to cheat. As they skip forward in time, meeting progressively more disappointing Bill Prestons and Ted Logans, the current iterations are forced to realize their own shortcomings. For the first time Bill and Ted aren’t the heroes.
While that extra bit of weight adds a much needed flavor to a formula that got stale in 1991 with Bogus Journey, it doesn’t alter the ingredients that made Bill & Ted so original. The air guitar riffs are still there, the Wyld Stallyns still travel to hell to court Death, and this time they even get the added wrinkle of an insecure robot bounty hunter chasing them from the future. All that to say, Bill & Ted Face the Music is still a riotous good time.
When a film franchise adds a new installment after nearly 30 years, it almost always means a nostalgia rush without it’s own legs to stand on. The fan service is certainly there, but Face the Music does something bold to move beyond it. Only half of the new Bill & Ted belongs to the titular Bill and Ted, the other half is handed off Billie Logan (Bridgette Lundy-Paine) and Thea Preston (Samara Weaving) who go off on their own excellent adventure through time. Billie and Thea’s quest to help their dads unite the world sends them through history to round up a group of historical musicians — including Louis Armstrong and Ling Lun — that is more diverse than any of the prior films cameos.
Weaving and Lundy-Paine capture the youthful exuberance of the original Bill & Ted so well that the film feels like it belongs to them more than Winter and Reeves. Even before the delightful, epic conclusion makes clear that it is their movie, the new generation of Preston/Logan steal every scene they inhabit. If Face the Music does well enough, the pair could easily helm their own set of sequels.
Ultimately, what makes Bill & Ted so timeless is that central tenet each film has lived by: “be excellent to each other.” Right now that message resonates stronger than ever. 2020 has been a trying year for the whole world and Face the Music’s relentless optimism is a refreshing reprieve from the world outside. When two generations of Prestons and Logans do finally unite the world in song, if only for a moment, it feels as though things can get better for us too. So let’s be excellent to each other.
TL;DR Bill & Ted Face the Music brings back the signature goofiness that longtime fans will appreciate, but adds a more mature thematic through line than the series has ever seen. This combo makes for a new high-point in the franchise 8/10