Bill & Ted Face the Music has so much to live up to that’s it’s almost impossible. Trilogy ending films always are given more responsibility than they can shoulder, and our immediate appraisals of them are often far too loaded with expectations. And with a franchise that promises to climax with a song that can unite the world and save reality? How can a movie possibly deliver on such a lofty goal?
Thankfully, Bill & Ted Face the Music knows the burden it has to carry and decides to use it to its advantage. Instead of placing the narrative stress on the plot, creators and co-writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon use the framework of the plot to better explore where Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are in their lives. Their band has broken up, they haven’t written the song that will unite the world, and their marriages to the princesses is on the rocks.
When the film starts, our most bodacious protagonists are about to give up on their music careers. It’s then that Rufus’s daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) arrives from the future to help them. This leads Bill and Ted on a quest through their own personal futures in an attempt to steal their reality-saving song from themselves.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is certainly tailor-made to please fans of the cult classics Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. You’ll get your fuzzy feelings thanks to appearances from recognizable supporting characters and some fun nods to the films of the past. But, this Bill & Ted adventure showcases a maturity that the previous films weren’t interested in. Naturally, that’s due to the writers and stars being older, but it’s a smart move to make this (likely) final entry one about self-reflection and what “Bill & Ted” is supposed to mean. Without spoiling the film, this movie has its heart in the right place and the ending message is one that subverts the original film’s meaning towards “the song that will unite the world” in a joyous and affirming way.
And while Bill & Ted Face the Music is assuredly a successful comedy, it’s a lot less aggressively wacky than its predecessors. Don’t take that to mean the movie isn’t a goofy delight. It has plenty of nuttiness to make it a tried-and-true Bill & Ted movie, but you can tell that Matheson and Solomon felt a real emotional responsibility to these characters they created. So while you’ll get your necessary quota of sci-fi absurdity, the tone of the movie often comes across as the most serious of any Bill & Ted adventure. Part of that might have to do with Bill and Ted being both protagonists and antagonists during different parts of the story. That dynamic brings a stickier mood to the whole endeavor.
This is also the first time where the franchise feels like it has something more complex on its mind. That isn’t a dig against the previous films (which I adore), but other than their warm and welcome positivity, the other two movies don’t feel like they are trying to say anything. Bill & Ted Face the Music wants to subtly comment on musical/rock history and its roots in many non-white performers. Bill and Ted’s most outstanding daughters, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), travel through time to assemble a band to help their dads that includes figures like Jimi Hendrix and Louis Armstrong. The movie isn’t beating you over the head with this messaging, but it’s clearly there and clearly an intention. Add to that some surprisingly bittersweet moments in Bill and Ted’s storylines and this movie proves itself to be a lot smarter than its lead characters would lead you to believe.
The worst thing that one can say about Bill & Ted Face the Music is one that’s almost not its fault. Director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) is doing his best with a relatively lower effects budget, but it can’t help look like a lot of digital blah. That’s just the nature of the business these days, but it’s still disappointing after Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was such a strong piece of filmmaking and effects work.
Otherwise, Bill & Ted Face the Music is a fitting finale to the series. It ends on the exact note it should (though you should absolutely stick through the credits) and ends up leaving the franchise with the kind of positivity and unity it always promised. The pacing might seem off at first, but once you realize the mood of the movie and what it’s trying to achieve, everything falls into place.
2020 will go down in the history books as one of the worst years in our lives. Getting a brand new Bill & Ted movie was exactly what we all needed. Face the Music isn’t going to save the world, but it will remind you that the world is worth saving.