Sequels can carry an unnecessary amount of baggage, and a surfeit of expectations. It’s been nearly 30 years since Bill and Ted went on their Bogus Journey, and over the decades, the slackers’ cult appeal—and fans’ demand for the finale of their cinematic trilogy—has steadily grown. Bill and Ted’s pleased “Whoa!” at the very world around them is the sort of simple joy that hits harder now. Their concluding adventure, Bill & Ted Face the Music, is slight, its character development narrow, and its overall plot familiar. But the delight everyone onscreen is clearly experiencing in their return to this universe is infectious, and the film’s message of togetherness is undeniably welcome.
With references to both 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Face the Music begins in the present day, with the trilogy’s titular characters still best friends and still playing together as Wyld Stallyns. But otherwise, much has changed since Bogus Journey: They’re no longer famous, no longer drawing record crowds, and no longer playing music that touches the entire world. Instead, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are just suburban husbands and dads now, living together with their wives, Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes), and daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), respectively.
Bill and Ted have always been inseparable, and their daughters Thea and Billie, named after each other, are exactly the same. They hang out in the garage a lot. There is a bag of Cheetos permanently in Billie’s hand. Their knowledge of music of all genres and types is insanely extensive and detailed, and their love for it is unparalleled. It suffuses every interaction the girls have with each other and with their fathers (sorry to say, the wives/mothers in this film are mostly an afterthought), and Bill and Ted are impressed and proud of the young women they’ve helped raise. Billie and Thea are special, and their appreciation for the world around them—just as their fathers’ is, and was—is genuine.
The only problem is that Bill and Ted haven’t done what they thought they would: They haven’t written a song that would unite the world. “Those Who Rock” was popular, for a time. But the problems of the world kept on going after the song’s release, and in the years since, Bill and Ted have become afterthoughts. They know they’ve failed, and yet they’re unaware of the magnitude of how much until Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of Rufus (George Carlin), Bill and Ted’s onetime time-traveling guide, travels back in time to let them know that if the duo doesn’t write the song in 77 minutes, space and time as they know it will end.
That’s a lot of pressure! After a lifetime, 77 minutes feels like nothing! And so Bill and Ted are spurred into action, deciding to use that iconic phone booth to travel to the future and steal the song from themselves. Meanwhile, Billie and Thea, realizing that their “most excellent dads” are in trouble, decide to travel through time on their own to help. Along the way, a number of familiar faces pop up—robots, demons—to tangle with the families as they try to save the world.
While Billie and Thea’s journey mirrors their fathers’ from preceding films, providing us with a pleasant dose of nostalgia in how satisfyingly Weaving and Lundy-Paine channel the youthful energies of Winter and Reeves, Bill and Ted’s jump forward allows Reeves and Winter themselves to flex some different comedic muscles. They’re not asked to do much, but the film is buoyed by the actors’ broad humor and willing physicality. As a franchise, Bill and Ted has always been willing to poke fun at its heroes, and Face the Music takes that joke a step further by making the men face off against raggedy, desperate versions of themselves to comment on middle age, suburban ennui, and abandoned dreams.
Overall, Face the Music is more straightforward narratively than Bogus Journey, and doesn’t bother itself too much with the “right” details of time travel. That fluidity and flexibility keeps the pacing swift and the run time tight (only about 78 minutes), so the movie basically jumps from one humorous set piece involving Bill and Ted to an impressive musical performance observed by Billie and Thea, and back again. “We have it in us, dude,” Bill and Ted agree when they commit to trying to save humanity one more time, and the passion with which they throw themselves into that task—and how readily their daughters join them, willing to do whatever it takes to make the world a better place—feels surprisingly resonant in this moment.