“You may be a king or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later, you dance with the Reaper!” – Death
Sequels are often blamed and ridiculed for producing some of cinema’s very worst films, giving you more of the same of what their predecessor did so well. This is particularly true for comedies too, with Caddyshack II and Zoolander No.2 making a mockery of their original property by rinsing its content and repurposing it for a sequel, effectively making both films rather unfunny. Though, 30 years after its original release, it is remarkable quite how great Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the sequel to their ‘Excellent Adventure’ in 1989, remains, bringing their endearing positivity and rock and roll enthusiasm to the depths of hell.
As bombastic and wacky as the original film, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey follows the radical duo’s journey into hell when a tyrant from the future creates evil android doubles to eliminate the lives of the titular characters in the past. Both Bill and Ted are killed at the hands of their android copycats and are sent to hell for their sins, though this doesn’t extinguish their zeal as they explore the underworld’s bogus landscape before making a deal with death himself to get out.
With a far darker tone than the upbeat Excellent Adventure that echoed with vibes of Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 film Back to the Future, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey took the series to totally new waters and as a result formed a strong sequel that didn’t piggy-back off the success of its predecessor. So different from the 1989 film, Stephen Herek, the director of the original Excellent Adventure, passed on the sequel, stating that he thought the script was “sort of mean-spirited” and “a parody of a parody.” Thankfully, however, screenwriters of the original film, Ed Soloman and Chris Matheson remained on board and stayed loyal to the essence of Bill and Ted whilst challenging them with a darker, stranger sequel which expanded their comedy capabilities.
Its success is reliant on the frenetic, upbeat tone that is persistently carried throughout the runtime, perpetuated by Bill & Ted’s fruitful relationship and the performances of both Keanu Reeves and Alex Winer in the lead roles. Despite being amidst his own most successful year in cinema, appearing in Kathryn Bigelow’s highly successful Point Break, alongside Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Reeves maintains a humble relationship with Winter, playing off his co-star perfectly for several moments of dim-witted comedy genius.
Their relationship grows only stronger when the eccentric character of rock and roller, Death is introduced, played by William Sadler of Die Hard II and Shawshank Redemption fame. “I had more fun doing Bill and Ted than I’ve ever had making anything I’ve ever shot,” Sadler recalls about his time on the set of Bogus Journey, proving a perfect fit to make up the heroic trio of figures. In perhaps the film’s strongest scene, Bill and Ted poke fun at Ingmar Bergman’s classic The Seventh Seal, playing a series of games with death, including Battleships, Cluedo and Twister, suggesting that the duo’s excellent adventure and bogus journey are far more intelligent than they may let on.
Strange and psychedelic, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey would help to form the icon of alternative culture that Keanu Reeves represents today, taking Ted’s signature bohemian attitude to many of his future roles, no less than the suave, eccentric John Wick. Though the legacy that both Bill & Ted leave is one that would help to mould the ‘Stoner Comedy’ sub-genre, led by laid-back characters with a passion for subversive subculture and hatred of ‘the man’. The essence of the films is simple, “Be Excellent To Each Other”.