▶ Bill & Ted Face the Music is in cinemas now.
At the start of their latest voyage through time and space, Bill and Ted (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) – now older but none the wiser – are handed a pocket watch by their time-travel guide Kelly (Kristen Schaal) which is inscribed with the words: “Sometimes things don’t make sense until the end of the story.” It reads as a plea from the filmmakers for their audience to disengage all critical faculties for the next 90 minutes and place their trust in the familiar faces of Winter, Reeves and the wider cast of returning faces.
In the Bill and Ted Cinematic Universe, as in life, 30 years have passed. William ‘Bill’ S. Preston Esq., Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan and their musical ensemble Wild Stallyns have had a rocky time of it, as a speedy opening montage informs us. The band’s world-changing success was short-lived, and the once-free-wheeling dudes have settled down with their wives (here played by Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes) and their confusingly near-homonymous daughters Thea and Billie (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine) – Thea being Bill’s daughter and Billie being Ted’s.
In a story divided into two concurrent parts Thea and Billie are tasked with travelling throughout history to assemble a troupe of legendary musicians, from Jimi Hendrix all the way back to an heretofore unknown cavewoman drummer, while their fathers encounter future versions of themselves in a quest to find the song that will save the universe, eventually tumbling back down into the depths of Hell.
A franchise historically ‘iffy’ (to be polite) in its sexual politics – the fact that two of the most prominent female characters, princesses-turned-housewives Joanna and Elizabeth, have been played by different actors in all three films tells you all you need to know about their relevance to the narrative – does attempt to make amends here, with the new generation of music-loving doofuses given agency and a fair share of screen time. Both Weaving and Lundy-Paine capture the brainless enthusiasm of their fathers’ youths, particularly Lundy-Paine with their bobble-headed homage to Reeves’ surfer dude floppy hair.
Despite the enduring meme that Keanu Reeves doesn’t age, his iconic haircut gives the game away here, severe and straight, looking as though he’s just walked off the set of John Wick 4. Alex Winter is much fresher faced and enthusiastic, but the pair’s classic dialogue-in-unison shtick strikes a discordant note. They do, however, have fun with their various future guises and disguises, body suits and makeup making them musclebound, flabby and elderly at different moments.
Lifting scenarios and characters from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1988) and its sequel Bogus Journey (1991), Bill & Ted Face the Music tries to be a trim and slick amalgamation of the series’ best moments, appealing to the original fanbase whilst avoiding offensive and alienating language – a recurring gag from the first two films using the ‘f slur’ is thankfully binned here. Never Excellent, and certainly not Bogus, this is perhaps best titled Bill & Ted’s Relatively Satisfying Odyssey, even if it isn’t one that will endure throughout history.