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The following contains minor SPOILERS for Bill and Ted Face the Music!
It’s hard for even me to properly explain what the Bill and Ted franchise means to me, I'm not sure I even understand it, but I’m certainly going to try. While many people reading this likely discovered the first two movies on DVD, or even VHS, I saw both of them in the theater. I was very much looking forward to seeing the new movie that way as well, even going so far as to try and track down the friend I saw the first two movies with, who I haven’t seen or spoken to in a couple of decades. That was not meant to be, but Bill and Ted Face the Music is here. It’s the first movie that I’ve actually been willing to spend PVOD money on because I wanted to see it so much, and it was totally worth waiting nearly three decades to see it end.
As franchise filmmaking has become the order of the day, we’ve seen a lot of familiar movie brands get dusted off and brought back several years or even a decade or two after their last installment. Sometimes these come in the form of long-awaited sequels, sometimes they’re prequels. Other times we get complete reboots that jettison whatever came before for an entirely new take that simply reuses concepts or reinvents characters. Bill and Ted Face the Music does something different and, quite refreshingly, crafts a story that could not have been told any time other than now.
Most Recent Sequels To Older Franchises Don't Embrace Their Age
Some of these brand new looks at old franchises have been good, and some of them have not been. However, one thing that nearly all of them have in common is that they are frequently not telling stories that needed to wait so long to be told. To be sure, the versions that are meant to be direct sequels frequently do reference the fact that time has passed, but that's not the same as having a story that required time to pass. Something like Jurassic World accepts that it's been years since the Jurassic Park movies happened, but at the same time, the same story could have followed Jurassic Park III almost immediately and it still would have worked well enough.
Many new franchise entries don't deal with time passing at all. In the case of a complete reboot like 2016's Ghostbusters, it doesn't acknowledge the previous films. We're to believe they didn't happen in that universe, so you don't expect an acknowledgment that time has passed because here it hasn't. The same goes for animated films like the latter two Toy Story movies, which each came out about a decade after the previous entry. Time doesn't have to move forward in the same way in an animated movie.
A movie like Mad Max: Fury Road is, without question, a masterpiece. It's one of the best films of this century, but it takes place out of time. We don't even know with absolute certainty where the movie is supposed to be on the Mad Max timeline. It's a great film, a better one than Face the Music most people would probably say, and it's better that we got it decades later rather than not at all, but Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be a great movie in whatever decade it was released in.
Even movies like the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy don't dwell on the passage of time. Sure, the Original Trilogy characters are older, but the new trilogy wasn't about that. It was about other characters entirely, so you don't feel the weight of time passing quite as much. The major exception being Luke's journey in The Last Jedi, which is the exception that proves the rule, as part of the reason that story was great was the same reason Face the Music works.
Bill And Ted Have Aged With Their Audience
Bill and Ted Face the Music feels the passage of time more than most of these long-gestating follow-ups. Part of that is because Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter were basically kids themselves when they made the first two movies, and they are very much not anymore. And part of it is that I myself was a kid watching those movies in the theaters, and am very much not anymore.
But the other part is that the plot is specifically about the fact that so much time has passed, and it also deals with themes that would only be relevant to these characters after all these years. It's not just that Bill and Ted are middle-aged or that they have adult daughters, it's about the fact that the pair have been dealing, for decades, with the tremendous weight that comes with being told from an early age that they were special, and then growing up not to be.
And the resolution of it all works even better. While things don't go quite according to the plan that had been laid out previously, it ultimately still requires Bill and Ted to be who they were. But it also requires these decades to have passed. The duo still is largely responsible for saving reality, even if it doesn't all happen in quite the way they thought it would.
Bill and Ted Face The Music Could Only Happen Now
If the stars, and the domestic box office, had aligned differently following Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, we might have seen a third Bill and Ted movie a long time ago, but it simply would not have been this movie if it had happened, and it would have almost certainly been a lesser film. A movie about Bill and Ted's failure means nothing if only two or three years have passed. Bill and Ted Face the Music was, quite simply ,the story that needed to be told, and thus we needed to wait decades for it.
If there's a downside to Face the Music, it may be that when future generations discover the Bill and Ted movies and blow through the trilogy at once, some of what makes Face the Music so special might be lost. Sure, we'll see the characters grow up and understand how things have changed, but the viewer will not have changed in the same way that we all have in the time since we saw Bill and ted's Bogus Journey.
Bill and Ted Face the Music isn't the world's most brilliant film, but it's a good movie that caps off a good trilogy. And it if we're being honest, few film trilogies are ever as solidly good all the way through as this one has been. But what Face the Music does do well is it understand its purpose and its value. If you were somebody who was Bill and Ted's age then, then you're Bill and Ted's age now, You've been through a lot, even if that hasn't involved trips to Hell. And so, unlike so many of the franchises that have come back from the brink, Bill and Ted Face the Music is a story centered on coming back from the brink.