It’s been nearly 30 years since we saw heavy metal doofuses Bill and Ted onscreen, and while 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has grown into a genuine classic (and 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey has a substantial following, too), that’s no guarantee that a return for these characters in middle age would make sense. Thankfully, screenwriters Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, who wrote the two previous movies, are the masterminds behind Bill & Ted Face the Music, and original stars Alex Winter (as Bill) and Keanu Reeves (as Ted) have been passionately advocating for the project for the past decade. It’s clear that Face the Music is a labor of love for everyone involved, and while the movie is a bit disjointed at times, it’s mostly a joyful return to these beloved characters.
That joy is tinged with melancholy, especially at the beginning, when we check back in on Bill and Ted at their lowest point. When they were first visited by an emissary from the future in Excellent Adventure, they were told that the music of their band Wyld Stallyns would one day unite the world in peace, and the end of Bogus Journey implied that they were on their way to that achievement. But after a brief moment of stardom, Bill and Ted are all washed up, and they’ve yet to write the song that will bring all of humanity together. Instead, they’re stuck playing weddings and other small-time gigs, desperately hoping that each new piece of music will be the one.
Their wives Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), whom they plucked from 15th-century England in the first movie, still love them, but they’re getting a little impatient with their husbands’ immaturity. Bill and Ted’s 24-year-old daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), however, are fully supportive of their dads, with their own laid-back attitude toward the world and an exuberant love of all kinds of music. When Bill and Ted receive another visit from the future (in the form of Kristen Schaal as Kelly, daughter of the late George Carlin’s Rufus from the previous movies) warning them that they have only 77 minutes left to write that perfect song, Thea and Billie spring into action, taking Kelly’s time machine to recruit legendary musicians from throughout history to form the ultimate band.
Meanwhile, Bill and Ted reason that since they must have written the crucial song at some point, they’ll travel ahead in time to steal it from their future selves. Thea and Billie go through a sort of miniature version of what their fathers experienced in Excellent Adventure when they nabbed historical figures for a school report, and the fun chemistry between Weaving and Lundy-Paine pays off more than their slight, sometimes rushed storyline. Bill and Ted get a more substantial arc, as they come to terms with the possibility that they’ll never live up to the potential Rufus saw in them. Their future selves are often bitter, angry, depressed and hostile, and even the perpetually optimistic Bill and Ted have a tough time remaining positive in the face of such dark prospects.
But those encounters are pretty funny, and Winter and Reeves get right back in the groove of their characters’ personalities and speech patterns. The best new addition to the cast is Barry’s Anthony Carrigan as a killer robot from the future who turns out to have an unlikely affinity for Bill and Ted, much in the same way the pair won over Death himself in Bogus Journey. William Sadler also returns as Death, and the new and returning characters make for an appealing crew of weirdos determined to save the world.
Director Dean Parisot (the third different director in three movies) mostly just gets out of the way and lets the story play out, and some of the visual effects can look a little dicey. But this series has never been about spectacle, and Parisot doesn’t try to turn it into a modern blockbuster. The plot gets a little cluttered on the way to its somewhat abrupt, underwhelming end, and Solomon and Matheson have never been able to recapture the simple charm of Excellent Adventure. But Face the Music comes close, adding in just the right amount of humble self-reflection to its sunny, upbeat tone. It would have been fine to leave Bill and Ted alone, but bringing them back turns out to be pretty triumphant after all.