movie thoughts: Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020)

I enjoyed the first two Bill and Ted movies back in the day. They were very quotable and very silly. I had heard good things about this third addition to the franchise but I was skeptical about those watching with nostalgia glasses on giving an honest review. I’d seen too many movies and shows, reboots and revisiting the late 80s and early 90s, that were just painful.

But it turns out the writers for Bill and Ted are a lot smarter than I gave them credit for.

I cannot stop thinking about this movie! After we watched it, I just felt happy. It had been a nice experience, a little over an hour and a half of light-hearted silliness. But then I just kept thinking about the little things…

I remember an interview with Stan Winston, asking about special effects in movies and saying that if the artists are good enough, you don’t notice the effect and that is the magic of it all, it feels real and you forget about the movie magic. This script felt the same way – the writers were so good at avoiding the easy tropes, the obvious jokes but instead made decisions that were just as solid and kept the movie enjoyable on several levels.

And unless you think about it, you won’t even notice.

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(Spoilers ahead, obviously, so just bookmark this and come back after you’ve seen the movie…I’ll wait…it’s on DVD now so you can get it from your local library…that’s what I did)

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Bill and Ted Face the Music doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t or wasn’t before. Just like the first two movies, it is a fun story about two friends who end up traveling through time in an effort to save the world by just being awesome best friends. It leans into all the time travel paradoxes it can, it is a comedy first, the sci-fi is just there for the laughs and multiplying how ridiculous things can get.

But here is where that unseen magic happens. First, there is no unnecessary drama. Heck, there is barely any drama at all. This movie has Bill and Ted, their wives, their daughters, a wedding scene, a therapy scene – lots of chances for stupid fights with people being mean or shouting at each other. Doesn’t happen. Not once. No “I had to be cruel to be kind” or “they had to fight so they would split up for dRaMa” moments. NOPE. They end up in HELL and even the demons are polite!

In fact, in a wise evolution, there is more hugging! More love! One of the most uncomfortable things about going back to watch the original films are some of the very out-dated jokes that are more cringey than funny now (I mean, they were then too, but I was a kid and didn’t grasp the full offensiveness of it all). ANYWAY, the writers resisted the temptation to revisit these jokes in the name of “fan service” or “throwback humor” and in this movie Bill and Ted hug ALL THE TIME. Not only that, the freely tell each other how much they care about each other. THAT IS THEIR BIG PROBLEM! They are too co-dependent on each other and they end up in couple’s therapy because of that, and even then, when they fumble their declarations of love to their wives, it is because they are including the other couple in their statement.

Speaking of their wives, so many comedies make marriage a burden, the butt of the joke, something the men take for granted. In Bill and Ted Face the Music, when the guys find out that not only is the space-time-universe in peril, but also their marriages, they don’t just shrug off their marriages as something to worry about later, they immediately add the goal of saving their relationships into the to-do list – it makes the mission MORE important. It would have been easy for the writers to fluff that off and have it bite the characters later or have them fight with their wives and choose between the universe and their loves. But that is not where it goes, even if Bill and Ted do fumble their attempts to fix things, it is in the attempt that they endear themselves more to the princesses.

Bill and Ted are their own enemies in the movie. There really isn’t a “bad guy” or an “evil” to defeat. The peril is that for some unknown reason the universe-time-space is folding in on itself and everyone just knows a song by Preston and Logan saves the day, so they go in search of the song. Each problem or peril they face is mostly them making a mess of time. Even the leader from the other dimension, who sends Dennis the Robot to kill Bill and Ted, isn’t really doing it to be evil or mean, but because she thinks it is the thing that will fix the universe.

But, of course (as I think probably everyone figured out in the first few minutes) the “Preston and Logan” in the prophecy are not Bill and Ted, but their daughters. Yet again, the trope of fathers versus daughters could have been used here to conjure up drama. They could have not been respectful of their daughter’s skills or talents. Instead, Bill and Ted not only ADORE their daughters, but they trust them and put a lot of faith in their abilities. The daughters are very capable and go on their own time travel adventure, and when they think they have messed up and doomed them all, that is when Bill and Ted realize that they are the key to saving the universe and tell their daughters to play the song. There’s no “It has to be us!” moment, no embarrassing attempt at music by Bill and Ted – they immediately hand over the mantle to their girls and move to back-up.

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The musicians that the daughter’s “collect” for the final concert are also a fantastic selection of diverse artists and styles of music. Just like in ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure‘, no one seems too concerned about the idea of traveling through space-time in a magical egg when the daughter’s invite them in, it all just works and makes sense. Because the point of the story is to get them all together to rock.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is a great example of how to take an old franchise and work with those characters again today, proving that you don’t have to recycle jokes to reach the original fans and you can keep the light-hearted 90s vibe of the original film and bring in new fans.

Of all the movies I’ve watched recently, I didn’t expect this one to stick with me for as long as it has, it’s been several days since I watched it but I keep just marveling at how well it moved Bill and Ted into 2020 and stayed true to the core message of the series intact – Be Excellent to Each Other.

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