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Bill and Ted 3: potential and pitfalls

According to persistent rumors, a third Bill and Ted movie is in the works. The 90s franchise followed the eponymous characters on an adventure through time, space and the afterlife. The quest? Fulfill their destiny and become a rock band so good that it saves the world.

I loved these films as a kid, but I have serious doubts about a second sequel. We’ve already seen beloved franchises get shipwrecked by nostalgic throw-backs: Star Wars. Indiana Jones. Blues Brothers. The Godfather. And there are a lot of factors working against Bill and Ted 3‘s potential success:

  • First, you’d be building on a damaged foundation; the second film, Bogus Journey wasn’t very good. Rotten Tomatoes lists it at 57%, just below the “rotten” threshold.

  • Second problem? A key actor has passed away; George Carlin played Rufus, Bill and Ted’s rock mentor from the future. With Carlin gone, you’d hate to see the screenwriters force a “Rufus’s brother Doofus” on the audience. There’s simply no good way to explain Rufus’ absence—-especially in a franchise built around time travel.

  • Third, there’s the problem of scale. Like so many sequels, Bogus Journey amped up the scale, adding aliens, evil clones, robots, and visits to both heaven and hell. It substitutes epic scale for good storytelling (and suffers mightily for it). If they’re smart, the third film’s writers won’t even try to broaden Bogus Journey‘s scope.

    (Instead, they should dial things down and write a small-scale story. After all, the (universally beloved) first film revolved around two high-schoolers’ year-end history project. Make the third film cover some similarly modest challenge. Keanu Reeves (Ted himself) offers a hint: “Bill and Ted were supposed to have written the song that would save the world, and it hasn’t happened.” That feels just about right; go with that.

  • The last potential problem with a third Bill and Ted? Continuity. The second film, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, wraps up the pair’s story. Two good-for-nothing teens have transformed into nothing-but-good guitarists. The movie’s closing scenes interleave the Wyld Stallyns’ triumphant first concert with shots of people all around the world, rocking out. As the credits run, newspaper headlines highlight the band’s larger-than-life exploits (e.g. “Stallyns tour Midwest; Crop Increase 30%”, “Wild Stallyns to play Grand Canyon (Second Show Added!)”, “Bill & Ted Tour Mideast; Peace Achieved”).

    So… what’s left to tell? How do you reintroduce conflict, when you’ve already said “happily ever after”? My recommendation? Ignore that hyperbolic finale from Bogus Journey. After all, it was already tongue-in-cheek (do Bill and Ted really play a concert on Mars?). You could even let the third film pop that fantasy bubble. Open with a dream sequence along similar lines (e.g. the Wyld Stallyns accepting the Nobel peace prize), then cut to reality: Ted is forty-seven years old, overweight, and still living in his dad’s basement.

Should it ever escape development hell, Bill and Ted 3 could either redeem an already-tarnished franchise or bankrupt it altogether. Will the Wyld Stallyns’ final adventure be excellent or bogus?