Note: This review contains spoilers.
Music has always been at the forefront of the Bill & Ted universe. The dudes who called themselves Wyld Stallyns, who asked us to “be excellent to each other,” were tasked with uniting the world through their songs, after all. When we first met Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) in 1989’s Excellent Adventure, they were on the brink of flunking history, too busy scheming half-baked ideas of how to get Eddie Van Halen to notice them (with a triumphant video, of course). The last time we saw them, in 1991’s Bogus Journey, their gaudy metal band was playing the same bill as slap-bass freaks Primus. Since then, pop music has evolved... a lot. So while these time travelers’ beautiful idiot spirit remains as lovable as ever, their musical aesthetic is closer to washed.
Face the Music, the belated third installment of the franchise, finds legitimate laughs in the band’s growing pains. The movie fast-forwards to a present where Bill and Ted are playing weddings and $2 taco nights—a significant fall from the end of Bogus Journey, when their music goes internationally viral and helps bring peace in the Middle East. They’ve lost almost all of their fans, but in line with the prophecy from the first movie, they’re still attempting to write a song that will unite and save the world. They overthink their mission way too much, veering into maximalist prog dad territory before just traveling to the future and stealing the world-saving song from themselves. Winter and Reeves spend half the movie dripping with prosthetics and bad wigs, literally confronting their future selves and the specter of middle-aged mediocrity. It’s extremely fun to watch these men lock eyes with themselves, attempt to process their crippling fear of failure and divorce, and then have Dave Grohl call the cops on them for unwittingly trespassing near his mansion.
Reeves and Winter recapture their doofus characters’ unearned confidence, delivering fan-service performances where they play air guitar as if no Speeds, John Wicks, or Matrices have passed. There are small details that feel bizarrely crucial to the movie working as well as it does, like how Keanu still adopts Ted’s specific, slightly slouched way of walking. (At the same time, you can see Reeves’ sharpened acting chops on display when Ted has an emotional breakthrough with his militant father while they’re both in hell.) It’s a film that respects the lineage of secondary characters like Missy, and correctly determines that the logical conclusion for Ted’s shit little brother (who famously lost Napoleon) is to become a smug cop played by SNL’s Beck Bennett. And if you’ve ever been charmed by Alex Winter, you’ll appreciate his fight with a robot played by Anthony Carrigan (aka Barry’s NoHo Hank), all while wearing a disturbing muscle suit.
Just like the first two movies, the pace of Face the Music never lets up. As Bill and Ted speed through time to confront themselves, their teenage daughters Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving) borrow another time machine in service of their own mission: assembling an all-star band from throughout history. They arguably have the funniest lines of any characters here, and they offer something to the Bill & Ted trilogy that feels genuinely contemporary: voracious and omnivorous music fandom. In contrast to their dads’ teenage worship of Iron Maiden and Bon Jovi, these two go deep across genres. They’re instantly excited to see Kid Cudi when he appears in their front yard and they confidently reference the work of theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore.
It’s disappointing, then, that Face the Music’s soundtrack feels safe and homogeneous, with a lineup composed almost entirely of white male rock bands like Mastodon, FIDLAR, Lamb of God, and Weezer (admittedly with one of their best songs in years). Cudi gets plenty of screen time, but he’s deemed more useful to the movie as an expert in quantum physics than as a musical performer. It’s similarly puzzling that, despite Billie and Thea’s expertise about pioneering women musicians, the only two women in their supergroup aren’t actually women from music history: Chinese flute legend Ling Lun is referenced in history books with male pronouns, and the Stone Age percussionist Grom is fictional.
In the end, the song that unites mankind is… just OK. Building to a wordless millennial whoop, it feels like an Arcade Fire knock-off with some ’80s hair metal harmonic guitar solos thrown in. The movie’s abrupt ending is a dud, and as a bad Cold War Kids song plays over the credits, it’s easy to hope for a sequel where the daughters take the lead and get a chance to illustrate just how far music has evolved beyond the franchise’s roots.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork