Pulling off the elusive third act in a trilogy is no easy feat. Return of the Jedi, I’m looking at you. Matrix — don’t even get me started (sorry Keanu, you’re still awesome).
So, when I sat down to watch Bill and Ted Face the Music, I was fully expecting a letdown. Not least because the movie sets itself a daunting task. Bill and Ted (embodied by Reeves and Winter in an effortless blend of old-school nostalgia and fresh feeling chemistry) have known, since the first movie, that they’re destined to write the song that harmonizes humanity — thereby creating a future utopia that’s seemingly absent of toxic masculinity, allowing everyone to “be excellent to each other.”
The premise works in the first two movies because audiences can suspend their disbelief and simply imagine the mysterious song as some distant off-screen perfection.
When premise becomes plot, however, and Bill and Ted find themselves actually having to “face the music” and write the song, it’s hard to imagine the movie working at all. It’s one thing to vaguely imply a perfect song is out there, but it’s quite another to attempt materializing it on screen.
Add to this challenge, the fact that Bill and Ted (who initially blazed into the world as charming gen-x wasters with hearts of gold) seem oddly of date in 2020.
Even the most die-hard fan will likely feel a little awkward endorsing the narrative of two bumbling, middle-aged, cis-het, would-be patriarchs saving the world (even if they did hate “the man” when they were kids, too).
Truth be told, we’re just tired of that narrative. Artistically, it’s dated. Politically, it’s downright cringeworthy (even if one of them is Keanu).
So, what do Bill and Ted do? How can they save themselves — and the movie — from this almost inevitable crash-and-burn scenario?
By doing (in a wryly apt twist that gives the movie the crucial thrust it needs) what few actual patriarchs in the world would do today…
They. Step. Aside.
In truth, the movie’s attempt to stay relevant amid today’s shifting political correctness tides is a mixed bag at best. The filmmakers replace the “dudes” who rule the world in the future with a woman (who, oddly, looks like she takes her fashion cues from the Statue of Liberty, but we’ll let that slide). Sadly, all she does is throw dysfunctional patriarchal solutions at the problem (TERFs, I’m looking at you). Enter *spoiler alert* a killer robot with a hilarious crisis of conscience who basically just wants to be in the band.
In an utterly refreshing twist, however, while Bill and Ted are scratching their heads and muddling through the movie in pitch-perfect middle-aged renditions of themselves, their daughters Billy and Thea (who are just as delightfully goofy as their fathers, but, well… smart and incomprehensibly well-versed in musical knowhow) proactively step in to solicit a misfit crew of legendary artists of color (for the most part), knowing that a great song is worth nothing without a great band to play it.
Cue a musical journey through the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, and Ling Lun (famed mythical creator of Chinese music who’s depicted as a woman in the movie). Oh, and Mozart, but you can’t win them all, I guess.
Of course, it’s by no means a perfect scenario. In the movie’s effort to acknowledge that human history owes a profound debt to musicians of color, it ends up offering its audience a mere well-meaning pastiche of politically correct representation, with only a passing nod to women of color, some awkward fudging with cultural appropriation, and a notable absence of trans and genderqueer characters (admittedly, Billy and Thea were boys and the end of the last movie, and they’re played by cis actresses in this one—make of that what you will).
But it’s a start.
That is, for a movie that doesn’t pretend to offer a thesis on social power dynamics, but merely tries to be relevant.
In the end, even the song — which isn’t itself great but somehow manages to deliver an ecstatic sliver of sheer movie magic — sort of works. Mostly because the characters realize the rub lies not in the song itself, but in all of humanity playing along (oh, and that includes the multiverse). Enter Kid Cudi as a quantum physics expert, and a twee (but nonetheless rousing) message about how every single person on Earth matters, and we all need to help each other to stop the world from imploding.
(Except the patriarchs, of course. On behalf of 2020, I can pretty much safely say we’re done with you).
So, Bill and Ted, I was pleasantly surprised.
If you ever resurface for a fourth movie, I’d love to have a little chat about intersectionality.
But, for now, I’m happy that you realized your greatest power lies in acknowledging your limitations and stepping aside to give center stage to other, more deserving candidates.
I’ll forgive you for coming in to lead the chorus (which, I suppose, for continuity’s sake was inevitable), because you charmed my socks off when you left your egos at the door.