Nearly 30 years after the last time any of us saw the Wyld Stallyns, Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves) return to screens big and small tomorrow in Bill and Ted Face the Music. A couple of weeks ago, we wrote that Bill and Ted's style of good-natured, do-no-harm comedy is exactly what is needed in a year where the summer movie season has collapsed under the weight of a pandemic and Americans are steeling themselves for another brutal couple of months in the run-up to the November Presidential election. The film lives up to that potential and will give drive-in and on-demand audiences a reason to celebrate.
For anyone who hasn't seen Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure or Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, that's okay: the new film opens with a short monologue from Bill and Ted's daughters -- the Wyld Stallyns' biggest fans and maybe the only people in the entire film who never lose faith in Bill and Ted. The intro features short clips from Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, along with a bit of commentary explaining how they got from the end of the second movie to the start of the third.
Reeves and Winter have not lost a step in three decades, bringing Bill and Ted back to life in most non-heinous fashion. They retain the core of the characters -- hopeful, funny, kind, and with a single-minded dedication to their music -- while advancing them so that they feel like fully realized people whose lives have moved on when the camera wasn't rolling.
One important thing: while Bill and Ted remain somewhat immature, they are not selfish, and neither are they trapped in amber. Their frustration and concern over their inability to live up to the lofty destiny placed upon them (in Excellent Adventure, the pair learned that their band will unite all of space and time with a song that makes the world a better place for hundreds of years) lies at the core of the story, giving them a self-awareness from the very start that it took an entire (very enjoyable, but still) movie for Jay and Silent Bob to begin to approach last year.
There are certainly some similar themes between this film and Jay & Silent Bob Reboot; for a start, one of the things that redeems Bill and Ted (because being knuckleheads at 50 isn't quite the same as when you're teenagers) is the fact that they appear to be genuinely good fathers, who love their daughters dearly. The daughters, as you can probably tell from trailers, reciprocate that love, with a degree of admiration and emulation for their dads that makes them fun to watch on their own, but even more fun to watch interacting with Bill and Ted.
Samara Weaving, who plays Thea Preston, has impeccable comic timing and some nonverbal acting that makes her stand out as a character both descended, and distinct, from her father. Brigette Lundy-Paine's Billie Logan stays a little closer to home, so to speak, with a performance that so effectively channels Reeves' 1989 take on Ted that it borders on mimicry. The pair work well together, with a chemistry that's slightly different from that of Bill and Ted...and probably informed by their parents. Unlike teen-aged Ted, who spent his whole life getting yelled at by his police officer father, you couldn't imagine Billie shouting at her BFF to "shut up, Ted!"
To those concerned that the daughters would somehow "take over" the film, there's really no reason to worry. They get quite a bit more screen time than their moms (who get roughly the same amount of screen time in Face the Music as they did in Bogus Journey but have a lot more agency and drive a lot of the plot), but it's very much Bill and Ted's movie, culminating in a pitch-perfect ending for Bill and Ted's arc. And, if you're a parent, there's a shot of Jayma Mays' Princess Joanna in the movie's third act that will melt your heart -- and Mays doesn't have to say a word to sell it.
It would be a disservice to Anthony Carrigan to get through this whole review without talking about Dennis, the insecure, largely incompetent murder-robot played by the Gotham and Barry star. In his first couple of scenes, he appears to be little more than a cross between a stormtrooper and a Terminator, but once he starts to let his personality out, he steals almost every scene he's in, creating an offbeat and memorable side character comparable to Death from Bogus Journey. That character appears, too, with William Sadler clearly enjoying every second of chewing the scenery and having a surprisingly heartfelt connection with Bill and Ted's daughters. Last but not least, Bridesmaids veteran Jillian Bell appears in the film as a marriage counselor to Bill, Ted, and the Princesses, and makes one of the best comedic foils in the whole trilogy.
The filmmakers have said that one of their focuses was to make sure that Bill and Ted do feel like people who have grown up, and they definitely hit that mark. The whole film feels like it took the kind of lovable-slacker-dope comedy that made the first one so popular, and aged it up so that a new generation of fans can appreciate it. Whether that comes from a more nuanced understanding of music, or of time-travel, or a more inclusive cast of characters and historical figures, everything about this movie feels like it's of its time, rather than stuck in 1989.
In a world full of people who view the characters as icons of the '80s and '90s, and might be expecting a tongue-in-cheek, self-referential nostalgia/period piece, Bill and Ted Face the Music should be a pleasant surprise. Heartfelt, funny, and full of hope, Bill and Ted Face the Music is easily one of the most entertaining movies of the year. It matures the characters, and the franchise, in surprising and hilarious ways without losing the appeal at the characters' core.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Bill and Ted Face the Music is in select theaters and On Demand on August 28th.