Bill & Ted is still the best time-travel movie ever for 1 simple reason
People are excited for Bill & Ted 3, but what really made us love Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan in the first place?
To the entire universe's delight, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves are reprising their roles in the third installment of the Bill & Ted franchise thirty-one years after we fell in love with the bumbling time-traveling duo in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Anyone who grew up in the '80s and '90s remembers the story of two doofuses trying to start a band only to encounter a time-traveling George Carlin who tells them their future music is going save the world. That utopic future is put in jeopardy because the boys are about to flunk history. To protect the future, Bill and Ted must go on an excellent time-traveling journey (via phone booth) to pass history and save the universe.
Buddy comedies aren’t exactly novel, so why do we love Bill and Ted so much? As much as we all adore Keanu Reeves, I don’t think it’s his appeal alone that’s made the films so popular. In short, Bill and Ted are everymen. Or rather, the every-teenage-boy. Yes, Bill and Ted are complete airheads to an exaggerated degree, but they’re both very relatable characters and quite ordinary teenage boys. They’re longing to grow up and achieve great things, but they’re not remotely capable of making those dreams a reality. They’re devoted to gaining stardom with their band, but when we first see them, they’re not at all talented (which they readily admit).
Now, here comes the fantasy. When their future starts to look bleak, George Carlin-from-the-future suddenly tells them that they’re fated to save the world — with their music! They just need to pass history class first.
Cue the fantastic time-travel adventure where two dimwits from the '80s interact with historical figures like Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, and Billy the Kid. Hilarity ensues! I dare you not to chuckle when you hear Abraham Lincoln shout, “Party on, dudes!”
There’s nothing particularly unique about Bill and Ted. They’re not superheroes. They don’t have any special powers — all they have is a time-traveling phone booth. But when they time-travel, they can only rely on themselves just as they are. And despite their bumbling, they’re very successful.
This is what we all wish we could be: someone who might be utterly ordinary and unskilled but capable of doing great things and having amazing adventures despite their ordinariness — or maybe even because of it.
Bill and Ted themselves are also what makes the movies great. They’re genuinely good guys. Bill and Ted are not terribly bright (though they have excellent vocabularies), but they have an eagerness about them that makes them so appealing, and the audience wants to root for them.
They’re clearly interested in girls, but they’re never gross or disrespectful. They’re curious, but they never push the boundaries of decency or make the audience feel uncomfortable. These are kids who freeze up at the barest hint of cleavage — that’s more or less the reality of your typical straight teenage boy.
Overall, the comedy in both movies is very gentle and pleasant. It’s funny without resorting to gross-out comedy or sexual humor that borders on icky. There’s nothing offensive or repugnant thrown in for shock value. And that’s pretty impressive for a movie made in the same decade that gave us Revenge of the Nerds.
And then there’s Bill and Ted’s friendship. There is clear, natural affection here. Even when the two are ragging on each other, it’s never cruel. No one ever truly gets bent out of shape. Bill & Ted never resorts to that cliche plot point — the one where the buddy characters get into a convoluted fight and break up, only to make up in some carefully orchestrated emotional scene.
Bill and Ted are friends to the end. Literally. Even after they die (temporarily) in the second movie, there’s no dent in their relationship. Not even the Devil himself could stand in their way. If that’s not an aspirational friendship, I don’t know what is.
Many Bill & Ted fans often state a preference for the first movie over the second, which is typical of most film franchises. But the second movie certainly isn’t bad. It's got some genuinely good laughs. The primary difference between Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey is probably the level of complexity. The first movie is a pretty simple, fun, straightforward story, while the second one has a far more complicated plot.
Bogus Journey takes several twists and turns that genuinely surprised audiences. You have evil robots, Bill and Ted dying and going to Heaven and Hell, Bill and Ted challenging the Grim Reaper to a game of Twister... it’s a huge detour from the first one. Bill and Ted have an actual villain to contend with, not just the threat of separation. And they’re still in the same position as the first movie where they have to rely on their ordinary selves to escape danger. But despite the more complicated plot, the movie still has that pleasant comedy that made us love the first one.
It's unclear if Bill & Ted Face the Music will stick to this everyman concept, but hopefully, we’ll see that same delightful comedy from the first two films. Even it isn’t the best in the series, if it manages to keep the same jovial spirit we’ve come to love, I think we can be satisfied with that. Our only regret is that we can’t bring George Carlin back.
Rewind is an Inverse series that remembers the forgotten performances we love.