Much like its namesake duo’s excellent metalhead contemporaries from Aurora, Illinois, the Bill & Ted franchise had always felt very much of its time. Yet unlike Wayne and Garth, Bill and Ted can quite literally step out of their specific pre-grunge era by hopping into their phone booth. The fact that time travel is woven into the metaphysical fabric of their cinematic universe allows Bill & Ted Face the Music, arriving roughly 30 years after the first two installments, to land not as a hollow, nostalgia-fueled cash grab, but as welcome, forward-facing escapism amid a world that does, in fact, feel very much in need of saving.

Face the Music opens by informing us that the utopian harmony created by Wyld Stallyns’ world-changing ballad at the end of Bogus Journey was short-lived. William S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) may have married their medieval-princess bandmates, but the one-hit wonders quickly fell into obscurity, and we find them as a wedding band experimenting with theremins, bagpipes and indigenous throat-singing in an effort to fulfill their rock ‘n’ roll destiny. After 25 years of domesticity, wives Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) are experiencing suburban ennui and seeking couples therapy, if only to get their essentially conjoined husbands to start acting like individuals. But more importantly, all is not right with the time-space continuum, with historical figures like Jesus Christ, George Washington and Babe Ruth spontaneously swapping places. Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of original chrononaut Rufus, soon arrives from the 28th century to recruit Bill and Ted on a mission to “unite the whole world and save reality.”

Benefiting from punched-up visuals thanks to 21st century CGI, the film also deftly incorporates elements from its past two outings while elevating this new adventure into something fresh and modern. Bill and Ted’s twenty-something daughters basically embark on an Excellent Adventure redux, as Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine)—who are most definitely chips off the old block—manage to go back in time themselves to assemble the kind of virtuosic band (Mozart, Louis Armstrong, Hendrix) that could make their fathers’ dreams of ultimate harmony and rhythm a reality.

Meanwhile, Bill and Ted are faced with a quickly approaching deadline to finally produce the song that can prevent reality from winking out of existence. They use the trusty phone booth, now a 28th-century museum relic (alongside an archival-footage hologram of the late George Carlin as Rufus), to time travel to various points in their collective future to steal the song from themselves. But the future selves they encounter are most unsavory, whether that be alcoholic open-mic losers, outrageously muscled prison-yard toughs or pretentious, British-accented interlopers. And soon, both fathers and daughters are thrust back into the Bogus Journey underworld, when a futuristic robot assassin named Dennis Caleb McCoy (Anthony Carrigan) blasts them all to hell, allowing Bill and Ted to reunite with Wyld Stallyns bassist Death (William Sadler).

That’s a lot to pack into under 90 minutes, and much like the previous films, Face the Music does feel manic and aimless at times. But the franchise has always benefited from not taking its time-travel conceit too seriously and here the more madcap aspects of the film fit with its protagonists’ perpetual scramble to fix things by time-hopping. The affability of its characters serves as an asset in a film that’s unapologetically wholesome. The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) of the future may send an android to kill Bill and Ted as a Plan B to save the world, but by the end, there really are no true villains in this universe. Even grim reapers and laser-blasting terminators become buddy characters.

Winter and Reeves are mostly up to the challenge of reinvigorating their Bill and Ted shtick, adapting the young metalheads to middle-age without losing their essence, although Reeves may play Ted a bit more wearily than expected. By including historic Black musicians like Hendrix (DazMann Still) and Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), along with Kid Cudi playing himself, and in incorporating Thea and Billie as heroines, this third Bill & Ted film presents much greater diversity than its forebears. And its message of unity is driven home in an end credits sequence showcasing real-world footage of various cultures from across the globe all getting down to boogie. It may not save our increasingly polarized world, but Face the Music unifies both past and present ephemera to give us a moment’s respite amid a current reality filled with a relentless salvo of bummers.

Forward-facing and not trapped in its past, this third installment offers welcome escapism amid a world that does, in fact, feel very much in need of saving.
70 %
Mostly Excellent
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