Having been in various stages of development since at least 2010, a third installment of the Bill and Ted series has often felt destined to exist only on the page. But the project gradually began to pick up momentum over the last few years, formally being greenlit in 2018 and entering production last year. And now, Bill and Ted Face the Music has finally arrived, hitting theaters and VOD this weekend.
More than three decades ago, the Wyld Stallyns went on a most excellent adventure through time, passing their world history final — with the help of historical figures like Socrates and Joan of Arc — before being murdered a few years later, victims of evil robot versions of themselves from the future. Luckily, Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) were able to beat Death — quite literally — and vanquish their foes en route to becoming the legendary rock band whose music would save the world.
Only that last part never happened, and Bill and Ted Face the Music find the inseparable duo saddled with the weight and responsibility of being middle-aged parents, while still trying to conjure the greatest song ever written. But it’s not just the world that hangs in the balance — as a visitor from the future (Kristen Schall) warns, if Bill and Ted don’t perform that one perfect song at exactly 7:17pm that night, time and space will collapse and the universe will cease to exist.
Faced with these most unfortunate circumstances, Bill formulates a plan: they’ll travel to a point in the future where the song has already been written, and take it from themselves. “Isn’t that stealing?” Ted asks. “Not if we’re stealing from ourselves, dude,” Bill reasons, and it sort of makes sense — but they aren’t prepared for their future selves to be such complete and utter dickweeds.
While Bill and Ted head into the future looking for the song, their daughters Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving) recognize the need for musicians to help them perform it. Hijacking another time machine, they venture into the past in hopes of assembling the greatest band of all time, featuring musical luminaries from all throughout history, from ancient China to the Summer of Love to the prehistoric era.
Directed by Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) and stuffed with callbacks and references to the original films, as well as a few unexpected returning characters, Bill and Ted Face the Music leans heavily on nostalgia. As the characters journey into the past, the future, and even back to Hell for a reunion with Death (William Sadler), it almost feels like a greatest-hits version of Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, but the results are surprisingly effective. Encounters with multiple versions of Bill and Ted from the future grow increasingly hilarious, and the selection of potential bandmates tracked down by the girls feels especially inspired.
The boys may have grown up in the physical sense, but everything else about them — from fashion sense to vocabulary — still feels like something from a bygone era, albeit one that we remember fondly. Likewise, the energy, enthusiasm and indefatigable optimism that defined Bill and Ted is alive and well here, with both Winter and Reeves easily sliding back into those personas as though they never really left. There are plenty of middle-ages guys that wouldn’t be able to pull off the flannel shirts, air guitar riffs and liberal usage of “no way” and “dude,” but it feels like second nature for these two.
Not to be outdone, Weaving and Lundy-Paine are pitch-perfect as Billie and Thea, combining the personalities of their respective fathers with an encyclopedic knowledge of music. Viewers might recall the infant offspring of Wyld Stallyns being introduced as “Little Bill” and “Little Ted” during the final moments of Bogus Journey, and they would be correct — Face the Music retcons this in an early scene, and while the explanation wouldn’t pass muster in other films, it feels fairly on brand in this case. The only real complaint here is that we don’t spend quite enough time hanging out with the girls, but they’re excellent in every scene. Elsewhere, Sadler is given far less to do than in the previous film, but he makes the most of his limited screen time and is arguably even funnier this time around.
Returning to a decades-old franchise for one last hurrah is far from a sure thing, and there are almost certainly more failures than success stories, but Bill and Ted Face the Music falls squarely in the latter category. In fact, I found it more enjoyable than their last big-screen adventure, which may seem blasphemous to those with an affinity for demonic Easter bunnies, killer cyborgs and excellently huge Martian butts. The film was clearly a passion project for Winter and Reeves (not to mention writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, who penned all three), and there’s something joyous about watching them reprise the roles that helped jumpstart their careers — especially when it feels more like a labor of love than a disingenuous cash grab.