Bill & Ted Face The Music was recently released both in theaters and on-demand due to the ongoing pandemic. It has been almost thirty years since the duo faced their own personal hells, and outwitted Death at a series of games in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. The third movie in this unexpected franchise was born out of our culture’s current need for reboots. As well as our unquenchable thirst for nostalgia. But does it live up to the hype and become truly excellent? Let’s explore time and space in this review of Bill & Ted Face The Music.
Image via Warner Bros.
Bill & Ted Face The Music And Their Own Personal Failures
William “Bill” S. Preston Esquire and Theodore “Ted” Logan first air-guitared onto screen in 1989 with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. At that time they were high school seniors, on the verge of failing history. With a little help from George Carlin and a time-traveling phone booth the duo traversed time to collect historical figures, to put together the most excellent history report ever seen.
Now thirty years later, Bill and Ted are middle-aged dads who have veered into experimental prog-rock. Their band ‘Wyld Stallyns’ has gone through dramatic breakups and legal battles (with the character of Death). They have gone from major success to failure, and are left playing their increasingly weird music to unenthusiastic wedding guests.
Bill & Ted have lived for thirty years under the enormous pressure of writing a song that will unite all of humanity. A task they have failed to complete, despite their best efforts. They are burnt out, and ready to throw in the towel. Until a visit from a time-traveling Kristen Schaal raises the stakes dramatically.
Bill & Ted Go Full Science-Fiction in Face The Music
Kristen Schaal in Bill & Ted Face The Music | Image via Warner Bros.
The first two Bill & Ted movies were comedies with some science fiction elements. But they were also a pastiche of various genres. The time-travel element of the first movie meant that it is classified as science-fiction. But the first movie played around a lot with genre. It also shifted tone constantly according to time period. There are moments where it seems like it wants to go full Monty Python & The Holy Grail, especially during the medieval sections. But at its heart, it was essentially a coming-of-age high school comedy. The second movie ventured into much weirder territory, and is arguably more of a fantasy movie. There are evil robot doppelgangers; interdimensional alien scientists, and a journey through the afterlife that seemed to bring enlightenment.
But it is in Face The Music that the sci-fi elements really take center stage. Much of this is due to a renewed focus on the future civilization that is based around Bill & Ted’s music. Kristen Schaal delivers some exposition about a moment in time where reality itself threatened to unravel. And somehow a song saved it. This idea is naturally full of plot holes that the movie itself gleefully ignores as it hurtles onward through time.
There are multiple time-traveling vehicles in the movie. Bill & Ted travel forward in time to face their older selves. Simultaneously, their daughters travel back in time collecting a bunch of famous musicians to form the most illustrious supergroup ever created. There are no evil robot doppelgangers in this movie. Instead, the biggest nemeses that Bill and Ted face are alternate versions of themselves. Who they desperately want to avoid becoming.
A Focus On The Music Helps The Movie Succeed
Image via Warner Bros.
One thing that the previous Bill & Ted movies did not do very much was focus on the music that the characters are supposed to be so passionate about. Their band is a bit of a joke in the first movie, and the second movie builds up to a song that we only hear about half of at the very end. But the third movie finally makes up for this by focusing on the music in a way that Bill & Ted has never done before.
The younger Bill & Ted (Billie & Thea) are deeply passionate about musical history, and it is clear that their knowledge surpasses their fathers. Their first stop in history is to find Jimi Hendrix. He rebuffs them, until they bring in a young Louis Armstrong to persuade him. Another thing that this movie gets right is allowing (some of) the historical figures to have some personality, and agency in their time-travel adventures. The actors who play Hendrix (DazMann Still) and Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft) are particularly deft in their roles. They embody the legendary black musicians with an obvious joy and humor.
I would have personally liked to see a few more legendary female musicians included in this historical supergroup. But the movie is clearly trying to steer away from a string of cameos. The most notable cameo is the rapper Kid Cudi, who plays himself. Cudi’s advanced knowledge of time-travel and quantum physics is an unexpected source of delight in the film. Even though it doesn’t necessarily clarify any of the science fiction elements.
Let The Women Lead The Way For Future Bill & Ted Movies
Image via Warner Bros.
It feels a little strange to make this argument, since actors Keanu Reeves and Alex Winters are the embodiment of Bill and Ted. But I think that if any future movies are to be made in this franchise, they should focus on the female members of the family. Actresses Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Payne steal the show as the daughters of Bill & Ted who (spoiler alert) save the day. They are both effortlessly charismatic and goofy in the way that Reeves and Winters were in the first film. The two of them could easily carry on a renewed franchise for a new younger audience.
Alongside the daughters are their mothers (side note: I am perhaps a little too annoyed by the fact that the daughters and their mothers literally never interact in Face The Music). The characters of Elizabeth and Joanna were princesses from 1400’s England that Bill & Ted rescued from arranged marriages. Despite the fact that these characters appear in all three movies, and are supposed to be vital members of the band, they never get much to do.
Face The Music makes up for that slightly, by allowing the women to have their own time-travel shenanigans. Unfortunately, these journeys happen almost entirely offscreen as the women go searching alternate dimensions for a life where they can be happy with Bill & Ted. (Additional side note: these new time-traveling pods can traverse dimensions now, and we don’t get to see that at all???)
What I’m saying is that I would watch an entire movie based around the time-traveling/world-hopping princesses as they learn valuable life lessons from their older selves. Let’s make that happen.
A Strangely Profound Movie That Leans Into Absurdity
Image via Warner Bros.
Bill & Ted Face The Music is just as much fun as their first excellent adventure. The movie is heartfelt and unexpectedly sweet, in a way that the first two were not. The film could be no more than a vehicle for actors Keanu Reeves and Alex Winters to revisit these familiar characters and have fun playing around with them. But it ends up being much more than that, with the addition of Bill & Ted’s daughters who contribute a revitalizing energy to the movie.
There is also a strong thematic current of facing yourself (quite literally) and coming to terms with the fact that your life doesn’t always turn out how you expect. There was always a bit of pseudo-philosophical ethos inherent within the Bill & Ted movies. And in Face the Music these ideas crystalize into something close to profound.
Rewatching the first two Bill & Ted movies to lead up to the third installment, I was struck by how much these movies just revel in their own absurdity. Not much that happens makes a ton of sense, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also a ton of fun to watch. The third movie reaches a little too hard for the nostalgia at times. And some of the CGI is a little questionable, but that was always the case for these movies. In the end, Bill & Ted Face The Music is a joyfully absurd romp that was much better than expected. Was it truly excellent? Maybe not quite, but it was truly not bogus.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.