The pros and cons of a third Bill & Ted movie

News Shahid Khan 22 Feb 2012 - 12:34

A third Bill & Ted movie’s been rumoured for some time now, but is it too late for a sequel to a 20-year-old series? Shahid weighs up the pros and cons...

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Bill & Ted movies. I saw the first one on TV when I was ten years old, which would have been a couple of years after it had been released, and I was instantly smitten. I didn’t get all of the jokes at the time, but I did recognise Genghis Khan, Abraham Lincoln and Billy the Kid (if only by name rather than what they were famous for).

In fact, Bill & Ted was the first movie to introduce me to Napoleon, Genghis Khan and Joan of Arc and, in the 20 years or so since, I find my perceptions of these historical greats still coloured by their portrayals in that sublimely funny time-travel comedy (I still expect to see Genghis Khan skateboard through Mongol warriors with a helmet and baseball bat every time I see a portrayal of him).

With the news a few months ago that a script was being written for a third installment, and the recent follow-up report that an initial script was complete, I wondered whether it really would be a good idea to bring back the Wild Stallyns for another excellent adventure.

Having watched the original movies at least 30 times each since I first caught them (after having videotaped them off the television as a youngster) I found a joy in rewatching them as I grew older, and understanding the jokes I was too young to understand at ten years old (69 Dudes!).

With another sequel still a possibility, if recent news reports are anything to go by, what are the pros and cons of a late Bill and Ted reunion?
 
Con: it’s been 20 years since the last movie

A fairly obvious and familiar bugbear for all belated sequels. The track record for sequels or follow-ups that come along many years after the original isn’t that great. For every Tron: Legacy there’s a Godfather III or Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. I freely admit these may not be great examples; some would argue that Godfather III was and is underrated, and that Tron: Legacy was utter bilge.

But the fact is that in 20 years, attitudes will have changed, in terms of music, fashion, language, technology – I could go on. One of the joys of the Bill & Ted movies is that they are very much of their time as well as being, in many respects, timeless, and so are rightly regarded as childhood classics for those who grew up with them – even if we didn’t get all of the jokes at the time (like Abe Lincoln parodying the Gettysburg Address at the end of the first movie). But that only made re-watching them later all the more enjoyable.

How would Bill & Ted fit into today’s world? Is there still room for a light-hearted, cheerful goofy movie about two guys with a skewed sense of perspective of the world, or have they missed the boat by leaving it so long? After The Hangover, Bridesmaids, and Horrible Bosses, and other R-rated comedies like them, will a movie with no gross-out moments and no swearing work?

Also, in these politically correct times, can Bill & Ted still hug each other, back off suddenly and call each other ‘fag’?

Pro: it’s been 20 years since the last movie

Yes, I know, but bear with me. I would argue that Bill & Ted defy genre expectations. Is it a really just a teen comedy with elements of sci-fi? On a superficial level, yes, but as Roger Ebert noted in his review of Bogus Journey, most of the humour is a lot more understated and sophisticated than it’s generally given credit for.

As the trend in recent comedies has moved away from the total gross-out fad of a few years ago to R-rated movies with elements of gross-out comedy, its not like the new movie will be competing with anything else out there if it continues in the same vein as the first two. For one thing, it’ll probably be PG-13.

Anyway, it could be refreshing to go to a comedy that isn’t cynical and where the overriding philosophy is, “Be excellent to each other”, and “Party on, dudes!”

Con: but they finished the story in the sequel!

They did. I watched Bogus Journey over and over again in my teens and practically memorised the headlines in the montage at the end. Bill & Ted did it – they wrote the music that changed the world and united the human race and all other sentient species in complete harmony. It was also excellent for dancing to.

Now there was a hint from Keanu Reeves that the story was aiming in the direction that this didn’t happen and Bill & Ted did not change the future. So seeing as this entirely negates the final scenes of the last movie, how will this work?

Now, before everyone starts shouting ‘time travel’ and ‘alternate reality’, remember that Bogus Journey showed Bill and Ted defeating De Nomolos and their evil robot counterparts, disappearing and reappearing in the time-travel phone-booth with kids and long beards (although I think Bill’s beard would need at least five years to get that long), and then introducing Death, two medieval princesses and a pair of Martians as their band members. All of this was transmitted to the entire world via a live television feed as they rocked the stage. That’s a hell of a thing to just undo.

Pro: Ted was Keanu Reeves’ best performance

Everything I have ever watched Keanu Reeves in has consisted of me thinking, “That’s Keanu Reeves" whenever he appears. Some actors have the ability to completely meld into their characters so the actors are indistinguishable. I’m thinking Denzel Washington in Malcolm X, Tom Hardy in Bronson, that sort of level. Among these heavyweights, I would add Keanu Reeves as Ted. No, stick with me.

He really was that good in this role. He peaked too soon – everything he did after that has been pretty much the same, bland expression of acting that has plagued his movies since. Go on, tell me the difference between Neo, Constantine, Johnny Mnemonic and Jack Traven.

Only as Ted Theodore Logan did Keanu ever come to life as a character on the big screen.
 
Con: no George Carlin

The late, excellent George Carlin personified laid-back cool to me in the early 90s with his turn as Rufus. It also led me to take an interest in George Carlin as a stand-up, for which I will be eternally grateful. I hope that this latest sequel will honour his memory by not showing him as a hologram or anything of that nature. But a throwaway line indicating he’s still around would be nice. Oh, and they’d better not cast another actor in the role.
 
Pro: where are Bill & Ted now?

I have to admit, the idea of revisiting Bill and Ted in middle age does appeal, despite any other qualms I might have. I think the concept could work if done right, and I’m sure there would be an audience for it, on the basis of nostalgia alone if nothing else.

It helps that it’s the original writers who are on board for the latest movie. Also, if they keep to the storyline of the original then Bill and Ted are presumably married with kids (although the ‘kids’ would be 20 now). Maybe there’s fun to be had in seeing them in a family group.

Maybe it’s now their kids who are destined to become the Bill and Ted who change everything, and this could be a parable on how dreams and responsibility have passed from father to son. Except they’re going to do it with a rap/metal/punk/rock/dance/club mash-up.

Con: what’s the theme?

In the first movie it was time-travel. In the second it was the afterlife. If the third is simply alternate reality I’ll be disappointed, but I don’t see how else the story will work. Presumably time-travel will feature somewhere – but wouldn’t the future have changed if it wasn’t originally fulfilled? Has the upsurge in climate change recently left it too late for Bill and Ted’s patented air guitar that reduces carbon emissions to have an impact? Will Death make a reappearance? Will Station be fully computer generated?

Pro: the two original movies are almost cult classics

I did say almost. But not quite. One of the criteria for a true cult movie is that it must have under-performed at the box office when originally released, only to be appreciated over the years after home release and repeats on TV. Both Bill & Ted movies were financial successes relative to their cost, and on the back of their success there were two cartoon series, videogames (I had Excellent Adventure for the Game Boy), merchandise and even a breakfast cereal. So they definitely made money.

But I would argue that both movies are under-appreciated like many cult movies are. They are the Scott Pilgrim Vs The World of their day, and have been labeled by many as just goofy comedies featuring a couple of slackers being held up as role models, mangling the English language as they fail to understand the significance of the extraordinary events they find themselves in. Sigh.

These are the people who don’t get irony. They’re the same people who didn’t get Scott Pilgrim, which is why it criminally under-performed when released, but I’m sure will be recognized as a cult hit in the coming years.

Con: the cast are too old

I don’t know what Missy (I mean Mom) looks like now, but do I really want to know? The minor oedipal complex that Bill suffered as a teenager was hilarious, but will probably be really creepy with him as a middle-aged man with her being only slightly older.

Also, Keanu Reeves has aged quite well, Alex Winters arguably a little less so. And part of the charm of Bill and Ted was their youthful naivety and optimism, which worked because they were young men at the time. It’s what made them so endearing and likeable and made us forgive their lack of knowledge of pretty much everything except rock music.

Can they pull off the same trick 20 years later? What is considered youthful optimism for people in their 20s could easily be interpreted as misguided and naïve when they’re in their 40s.

To make it work, they’d have to change the characters drastically so they don’t appear to be complete losers. And I can’t think of another pro which means the cons have it by one.

In which case, as much as it pains me to say it, maybe Wild Stallyns really should be put out to pasture. Unless there's some really great idea out there that we didn't see coming...

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