The Future Awaits
Nearly thirty years after the events of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Bill Preston [Winter] and Ted Logan [Reeves] are still struggling to write the song that will unite the world in perfect harmony. The band has broken down to just the two front men and despite all their attempts, the magic is gone. After a wakeup call at a wedding reception, Ted suggests that it’s time to stop chasing this dream and follow his dad’s advice, if only to set good examples for their daughters: Billie [Lundy-Paine] and Thea [Weaving]. At that moment, Kelly (Rufus’ daughter played by Kristen Schaal) arrives from the future and brings Bill and Ted before the council of elders who state that if they do not perform this pivotal tune in 70 minutes (literally the film’s remaining runtime), all of reality will come undone.
As we see more of these belated sequels, we have to address the bar that was set. With titles like Blade Runner 2049, Jurassic World, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and even The Godfather Part III there was an expectation to meet and surpass some of the most iconic cinematic legacies. This is Bill & Ted. Granted, it has a cult following and they were successes in their own right but that legacy isn’t as nearly in danger of being warped and, if anything, Face The Music performs accordingly.
The plot itself is actually split down the middle, one half serving as Bill and Ted desperately leaping incrementally forward in time to steal the song from their older selves. The other half focuses on Thea and Billie assembling some of the greatest musicians (with a penchant from improvisation) from history and arguably mythology to act as their dad’s band. This division allows the narrative to maintain a decent race-against-the-clock factor while ensuring none of the set pieces outstay their welcome. With the same writers and cast returning after all these years, the dynamic and chemistry returns in full effect. The energy is fantastically fun, scenes are vibrant and silly, and Mark Isham’s score serves up a comfortable fusion of severity and frivolousness.
In an age of dark and gritty reboots and retreads, everything about this is just as light as the first two. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that Bill and Ted have always been the butt of their own jokes – the loser side characters in 80s high school comedies given centre stage – yet they are endearing for their earnestness, in spite of their stupidity. They are passionate about the music, devoted to their families and bonded by friendship. The only downside to them is that they don’t conform to the bracket that society expects of them and their reach often exceeds their grasp. But we love them because they are utterly devoid of maliciousness. This is why the robot versions worked so well in Bogus Journey and why the older versions in Face The Music are so amusing; it’s entertaining to see these pillars of innocence as twisted villains but equally incompetent. Which brings us to Thea and Billie. It would have been so easy to mess them up, throwing the tone off entirely. It would have been equally possible to end up with some really cheap imitations but both daughters are actually quite nuanced, illustrating that they are avid fans of music and significantly more intelligent than their fathers but not musicians in their own right, more like producers. What’s more, their presence and involvement in the denouement serves as a poignant message that it’s up to the next generation to save the world, literally.
**spoilers throughout the next three paragraphs**
It would, unfortunately, be wrong to say this was a good movie. It’s most definitely a fun, entertaining return for these characters but it’s not necessarily adroit and there are a lot of glaring issues. First up, the twist is obvious, largely because of the lazily written bread-crumbing. “A song by Preston and Logan must–“.. well there you go, it’s not written by Bill and Ted, now we know the ending and that’s in the first fifteen minutes. Worse than that, it was in the trailers, meaning that it was clear to me long before I even watched the film. And don’t get me started on Dennis saying “I brought this broken USB for you.” No you didn’t, I saw that scene and you didn’t move.
On top of that, this film doesn’t actually do a lot in the way of anything new. In the first movie the titular characters travel back in time to complete a school report. It’s nonsense but it’s enjoyable. The sequel makes some incredibly bold moves by including killer robots, heaven, hell and martians. The leap feels a little like the one from Die Hard to Die Hard With A Vengeance but it works as a continued narrative. Face The Music, while completely competent, doesn’t do enough that’s new. Travelling back through time to collect historical figures and going to the afterlife make a comeback but other than a few people and buildings glitching in and out of time, there isn’t a great deal of new territory explored. I also wasn’t especially impressed with future San Dimas. Owing to when they were filmed, Excellent Adventure has a late 80s aesthetic with dark crystalline structures, while Bogus Journey is very 90s and is full of neon and smooth edges. The future San Dimas as reflected here was disappointing and uninspired, littered with blue holograms and Apple store interiors. I can’t bemoan it too much as this too will become a noted marker of this era of filmmaking but damn it was dull.
The last two flaws I would like to highlight are pretty important ones. First off, what is initially billed as one of the most important driving motivations of the story is abandoned extremely quickly. The film opens with Joanna and Elizabeth in a rut and while still very much in love with their respective husbands, feel like something isn’t working. At that point, their future versions appear and show them Bill and Ted’s fate; all of which intersects with one of the central plot threads. The problem is, their characters have little agency and end up feeling quite redundant, with the movie not knowing what to do with them. In the second film the princesses were elevated to a point of importance in Wyld Stallyns. In truth, I don’t think they even played an instrument in the final ensemble. Speaking of which, we need to talk about that ending. There is something to be said for an emotional crescendo, the point where an audience is at the point of overflowing and cutting them off. It’s a very powerful tool and when used right, can provide a truly spectacular finish. For key examples, you need only watch something like Rocky or The Shawshank Redemption. Here it just feels abrupt. The pacing had been fairly impressive up until this point but when it came to hear the final song, the world started to remedy itself and then, bang, cut to credits. It was so very jarring and you’re left with a momentary stunned bemusement as if to say “that was it?” Which is never what you want to think or feel at the end of a movie, especially one that had some genuinely funny and standout moments.
Despite Face The Music’s failings, I can’t help but offer it a fair amount of leeway, if only because it’s a bit of a throwback comedy which is devoid of cynicism and formula. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the characters and the world they live in but there’s never a sense of doom and gloom because nothing about the movie instils a sense of fear. The tone carries you through, reminding you that this will work out fine in the end because of course it will. And for that, I think it deserves a modicum of grace.
16 September 2020
The Scene To Look Out For:
I relished every time Bill and Ted bumped into their future selves – who would become increasingly bitter and mean. The novelty was funny, the outlandish devolution into absurdity was nice and the exchanges were truly hilarious. What more could you ask for in a Bill and Ted movie?
Of all the characters I could talk about – the return of Death, the introduction of Dennis Caleb McCoy – I have to go much simpler. We’ve watched Keanu’s career over these last decades and he’s ebbed and flowed his way through a myriad of different features. But Alex Winter has been fairly absent from the mainstream for a long time and it’s nice to be reminded of how genuinely talented this man is. I can only hope this is the start of a return for Winter and not just a last hurrah because I think he is capable of some legitimately captivating performances.
“Sometimes things don’t make sense until the end of the story”
In A Few Words:
“To say this movie is perfectly serviceable may come across as an affront but for a third Bill and Ted outing, almost three decades after the last, perfectly serviceable is a hell of an accomplishment”