While the release of today's teaser trailer for August's Bill & Ted Face the Music didn't reveal much about the movie's plot, one thing seemed immediately clear: it will deal in cosmic stakes, and time-travel looks like it will be a big part of the story. That may not be a surprise to folks who have only seen (or only remember) Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, but those who remember Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey might notice that the third installment looks like a bit of a return to form. But looking a little closer, it seems the nature of time-travel in the Bill & Ted universe may have changed a bit.
Some things definitely appear, after a minute-and-a-half preview, to have changed. But is that a flub or, more likely, a conscious decision from writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson?
In the teaser trailer for Bill & Ted Face the Music, the pair are faced with the ruling council from the future they helped inspire. Originally seen in Excellent Adventure, the council (credited as the Three Most Important People in the World) were played by Martha Davis, Fee Waybill, and E Street Band member Clarence Clemons. They met Bill and Ted briefly, and it was only later that the duo realized that the future place with the "most excellent music" was the home of Rufus (the late George Carlin), where the music of the Wyld Stallyns had brought peace and harmony to the world.
This time around, we see the council, headed by Mr. Mercedes star Holland Taylor, warning Bill and Ted that their failure to live up to their destiny was starting to jeopardize reality as they know it. Bill and Ted, unable to write the song that will change history, instead decide to head to the future, after they have already written it, and take it from their future selves.
It's logic that absolutely holds up in the world of Bill and Ted. In the first movie, an early scene includes Ted's father, a police officer, upset that his keys are missing and blaming Ted for taking them. Much later in the movie, when Bill and Ted need to break a number of historical figures out of jail, the pair agree to go back in time to before the keys were stolen, and steal them, so that they were waiting for Bill and Ted when they needed them. It works, and shortly after that, when they are trying to make their getaway and Ted's father steps forward to stop them, Ted tells himself to "Remember a trash can," and one falls from the ceiling, landing on his father and immobilizing him for long enough that the boys can escape.
So what's the problem? Well, based on what we can see, it seems Bill and Ted travel to a future where they never wrote the song and instead are muscle-bound prison inmates. The neat, easy answers that served them so well in Excellent Adventure are more complicated in Face the Music, and likely result in more trips through time and more hard work to get to where they need to be.
Is that a violation of the audience's trust, and the rules of the universe -- or is it the kind of evolution that Face the Music demands from the characters and the world they inhabit? As a middle-aged Bill and Ted struggle with a destiny too big to rationally process, the movie itself is faced with an existential challenge: how do you create a song that will change the world, while knowing that it's just a song from a movie and won't actually change the world offscreen? Does that break the reality of the world as much as any change in the time-travel rules?
"It's in the press about the movie that they have to write a song that unites the world," Solomon recently told ComicBook.com. "And that sure is a terrible thing to set yourself up for as a writer. So we needed to find a work around so that we're not setting ourselves up for an impossible task."
Finding that workaround, much like Bill and Ted have to find a workaround for what appears to be a change in the way the universe interacts with them, feels like a key part of the story on both a narrative and a metatextual level. And while it seems (again, from a brief first look that could be misleading) like the rules are changing around Bill and Ted a little, it may not be that the movie is breaking its own rules, so much as that the rules, and the mechanics of the world, are evolving to meet Bill and Ted's (and the audience's) experiences and understanding of the situation.
One of the great things about the original Bill and Ted is how little regard it seemed to have for the mechanics of time-travel. Everything just...worked, even when trying to justify why it would, could give you a headache. That was the world inhabited by carefree and hapless teenagers, though, and the heroes of Face the Music are instead people who have been worn down by the world and the enormous pressures the universe has placed on their shoulders. For everything to go right in Excellent Adventure made perfect sense, because the characters who served as our guides through the movie never even stopped to consider the potential for defeat. From what we can see, though, Face the Music is ALL ABOUT Bill and Ted facing down the specter of defeat and disappointment. While nobody wants to get bogged down in the weeds of time-travel rules, it does kind of feel like any attempts to handwave it all away and letting everything "just...work" would feel like a betrayal of the premise, the characters, and the many, many years that got us here. After all, if all you had to do was skip to the end of the book to get the answer, why would someone not have done it in the intervening decades?
Of course, this is all theoretical, and it's possible that we are overthinking...an 80-second trailer for a Bill and Ted movie...
Still, this question might raise some questions about how things work in the world of Bill and Ted, and how different things will be for the boys this time around -- but that just makes it more appealing.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is expected in theaters on August 21.