MOVIE REVIEW: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020 United Artists)
Directed by Dean Parisot

I went into Bill & Ted 3 not expecting much, due to the poor reviews and long-ass time since the second movie (1991).  I came out thinking everybody else got it wrong, and Bill & Ted Face the Music could actually be the best of the series.

Keywords:  “the series”.  This isn’t The Godfather we’re competing with.  Once you shed the rosy glow of nostalgia, realize one thing:  Bill & Ted were never great.  They were always fun, headbanging nonsense.  There was some wit and some great performances thanks to George Carlin and William Sadler, but Bill & Ted were never great.  The movies didn’t make a lot of sense where time travel is concerned, and were essentially just vehicles for the two dumb guys to have dumb adventures.

What is amazing is that the two “dumb guys” (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) wanted to come back.  They seemed to be having fun making the movie, which means it’s fun to watch.  What’s new in the last 30 years?  Not only are Bill & Ted still together, but they are still together with their medieval princesses too!  And they even have children — Thea and Billie.  And they are chips right off the old blocks.

One catch though.  Although Bill & Ted’s band Wyld Stallions achieved some early success, they quickly dropped off the map* and never wrote the song that would bring the world together.   And if they don’t do it before 7:17 PM, the universe will cease to exist!  (That doesn’t make sense?  Well neither did the first two films!)

The movie splits into two tangents here, both equally entertaining.  The affable Bill & Ted decide to go into the future, and just steal the song from their future selves.  Meanwhile, Billie and Thea have their own idea:  form the band that will back their dads when they play the song.  They borrow a time machine from Kelly, who is the daughter of Rufus (George Carlin).  Kelly is trying to warn their dads about a time travelling assassin robot (named Dennis) sent back to kill them.

While Bill & Ted encounter increasingly older versions of themselves as they travel further trying to find the song, Billie and Thea recruit Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, legendary Ling Lun, and a cave drummer from the stone age named Grom — the greatest musicians in history.   This is where Bill & Ted Face the Music really surpasses its forebears.  While it was fun seeing Bill & Ted recruit historical figures and going to hell in the past, this time it’s actually about the music.  For three movies, we are told that Wyld Stallions will unite the world in music.  Only in the third is the music actually a significant part of the movie.  It’s fun seeing Hendrix jam with Mozart despite the language (and time) barrier.

Spoilers from this point.  Bill & Ted screw up worse and worse the further they go.  Their future selves try to trick their past selves into stealing a song from Dave Grohl, which backfires and ends up with future Bill and future Ted in the slammer.  Their princesses abandon them.  Dennis lasers everybody to death (including himself) and they all end up in a familiar landscape:  Hell.  But that’s OK.  Turns out that Bill & Ted’s former bassist lives nearby.  Yes, it’s William Sadler as Death, who we learn quit Wyld Stallions to go solo years ago.  (We couldn’t get George Carlin back, but we did get William Sadler, and that’s just awesome.)  The clock ticks on and all seems lost, but don’t worry — Kid Cudi shows up to help with the quantum mathematics.

But what about the song?  As Mr. Holland’s Opus proved adequately, when you build up a piece of music in the audience’s mind, nothing will meet that expectation.  And as Dave Grohl is well aware “this is not the greatest song in the world, this is just a tribute.”  Given that no piece of music will ever satisfy an audience when you build it up as “the song that will save the universe”, this movie took an interesting turn.  It is revealed that the song itself wasn’t as important as getting everyone in the world to play along simultaneously.  It’s like a big “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and sing in harmony” situation.  And our heroes have a time machine, so they can make sure they get the message (and an instrument to play along) out to everyone in the world.  Don’t think about it the time travel stuff too hard!

End spoilers.  

Keanu Reeves, and Alex Winter in particular, are so much fun to revisit as these characters.  Keanu is a little more laid back, but Bill & Ted are in their late 40s (while the actors are in their 50s).  They’re not as enthusiastic as they once were.  But they are still Bill & Ted, bonded at the hip, and going to couples therapy as a quartet with their princesses.

Because of its focus on the music, Bill & Ted 3 surpasses the previous two movies.  There’s little “wheedly-wheedly” air guitar and shenanigans.  They don’t run around saying “excellent” and “bogus” all the time.  The endgame of Bill & Ted has always been that one day they would save the world with their music, yet the previous two movies didn’t focus on music.  The first one was about collecting historical figures to pass the highschool history exam.  A fun and fresh premise indeed.  The second went dark, having them assassinated by future robots and journeying through hell.  The third combines the two ideas, but this time with historical musicians.  Rock, jazz, classical, and I had to look up Ling Lun!

You get the sense that Keanu and Alex realized that there is a certain innocence to Bill & Ted that requires younger characters.  Their daughters (played by Samara Weaving – niece of Hugo, and Brigette Lundy-Pain) fill those roles and do it, pardon the pun, excellently.  You need that wide-eyed excitement.  Bill & Ted have already travelled through time, met Socrates and did it all twice — they have nothing to be wide-eyed about.  To them it’s old hat, even ending up in Hell one more time.

The Bill & Ted movies are, objectively, dumb movies.  The two lead characters are, objectively, dumb.  But dumb can be classic, as Stooge aficionados know, and updating a classic is really difficult to do.  Just ask the Farrelly brothers.  Ted Theodore Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire managed to have a third adventure appropriate to their ages, while finally saving the world as George Carlin promised they would.  Nothing new added to the stew.  By finally focusing on the music, potential is fulfilled.

3.5/5 stars

* Their experimental opus “That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical and Biological Nature of Love; an Exploration of The Meaning of Meaning, Part 1” is not a hit.

66 comments

        1. Do I? I’m kinda confused. Is writing 1000 words singing the praises of Forbidden comedy? Because I just did that.

          Like

        2. He obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

          Headless Cross is my second favourite Martin era album, but I think Forbidden is in my Sabbath top 5, honestly.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. One must assume they hired Ernie C to produce since he did a good job with Body Count. But that didn’t apply to his work with Sabbath. The drum sounds are easily the worst that Cozy ever had. And Ice t rapped.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. I didn’t think this thing got poor reviews. I thought the general consensus was that it was a perfectly acceptable follow up that wasn’t as good as the first two. I’d agree with that. This one was fun fluff, and it was nice to see a new movie that was optimistic for once. It just didn’t seem quite as spry as the other two, Keanu in particular seems like John Wick trying to do a Ted impression rather than Ted. His daughter does an absolute perfect Ted in that movie though. She’s fantastic.

    And no, the originals weren’t “great”, but they became comedy classics for a reason. They’re not nearly as dumb as people say they are. I mean, the whole play on “cheating Death” in Bogus Journey where Death is a cheater all wrapped up in a parody of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal is pretty fucking clever. Or as Roger Ebert said, “Their ‘Bogus Journey’ is a riot of visual invention and weird humor that works on its chosen sub-moronic level, and on several others as well, including some fairly sophisticated ones.”

    The second one in particular is very creative for a mid-low budget comedy. The effects, the camera angles, the set pieces, the sound design, the scene transitions. One of my favorite gags is right after Evil Bill & Ted kill good Bill & Ted and they start air guitaring to celebrate on top of the cliff. The camera cuts to a far away shot partway through their playing and the sound of the guitar becomes echoey as if you’re hearing it from the bottom of the cliff where the camera is before cutting back up close and getting the more direct dry guitar signal again. I mean, come on! That’s attention to detail. Not a movie that was just shat out without care. Ted’s Dad playing clean jazz guitar when Ted is possessing him is also hilarious.

    The first one is a little more stock in its direction, but the script is still more clever than a cursory glance would suggest.

    “True wisdom comes from knowing that you know nothing.” “That’s us, dude!”

    The time travel not making sense was never a problem for me, because it was never the point. In fact it became another joke really. The writers clearly didn’t care about it, because it wasn’t the point of the story. The point of the story was the two lovable protagonists going through time, heaven, hell, and having fun adventures. No need for Star Trek level explanations of what’s going on, it’s just not necessary.

    I thought this third one was a little less visually appealing with all the computer animation, and the whole thing feels sort of rushed. Partially that’s because they couldn’t do the reshoots they wanted because of you know what. As a mentioned before, the daughters were great, William Sadler being back is a major asset, and it’s just great to see the guys back in action having fun with something this silly in a cinematic climate that has become so “edgy”. The only thing that left a bad taste in my mouth was [SPOILER] them trying to retcon the daughters as the true saviors. I mean, their dads still wrote the song. They just supplied some samples and gave them a key to play in (C Major is the key that’s gonna save the world?)[END SPOILER]

    “Bill & Ted have already travelled through time, met Socrates and did it all twice — they have nothing to be wide-eyed about.”

    In the originals they were always excited about life, they never seemed that wide-eyed about what happened around them. When they’re dead and go to hell in the second one, they’re barely phased. It’s part of what makes them so endearing. They’re just on to figure their way out of the situation.

    Basically I (respectfully) disagree with just about your entire review. Suck it, Harrison. I’m the Kontrarian today!

    To add those Kontrarian points up, “That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical and Biological Nature of Love; an Exploration of The Meaning of Meaning, Part 1” was a way better song than the one that ended up saving the world. Also Ted’s dad was in ERASERHEAD!!!

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    1. Sounds like you actually agree with my review, we’re only off by 0.5. We actually agree on most things. The retcon is what it is… there was no way they could have presented a convincing song to a movie audience. They had to do SOMETHING to write themselves out of that corner. Daughters worked for me. Bill & Ted still fronted the band. They still united the world.

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      1. I just thought it didn’t seem like you gave the first two enough credit. Our enjoyment levels of the third film are pretty much the same though.

        Have you seen The Seventh Seal? Might make the second one funnier. They don’t lift anything directly, but you can tell Death wanted Bill & Ted to pick chess.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. True although that is probably me overcompensating for all the bad reviews I read last year. When I saw 3, I thought “Those reviewers must have either been high, or forgotten that the first two were not Gone With The Wind”.

          I am pretty sure I saw the Seventh Seal at one point ages ago. Memories are fuzzy there.

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        2. That’s fair.

          I’d loan you my Criterion Ingmar Bergman box set, but it cost me $150 and that was half off. 36 films and a 230 something page booklet though. I’m waiting for it to go OOP so I can sell it for enough money to pay for a second home in the Bahamas, in cash.

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    1. Dude you ignored the spoiler warning! But that’s a good thing. What song would YOU write for such a scene? Nothing. Nothing can be written for that. Just watch Mr. Holland’s Opus and see what I mean.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I still haven’t seen it. My youngest loved the first two so we do need to catch this one together. Sounds exactly like I would expect and that is enough to at least see it once. Great, thorough review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the spoiler alert. I was reading your post but decided to stop and come back after I watch the film (hopefully, this weekend). I am totally stoked about the film and yeah, I know none of these films are high art. Still, I loved the first two as a teenager.

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        1. I dind’t actually know his name. Cool.

          Speaking of actors, I was watching The Dark Knight Rises and saw Daggett and all I could think was hey, there’s Krennic!

          Like

  4. Be excellent to each other!! That’s how I’m preparing for spring.

    Listening to Pedal to the metal Blessed by a broken heart. Not your cup of tea, don’t think.

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