Since the beginning of time, or at least 1991, there’s been a debate stirring among movie fans: Is Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey better than the original Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure? The answer, followed by a celebratory air-guitar riff, is a resounding yes.
The sequel was released three years after Bill and Ted’s first excellent adventure, and it surpasses its predecessor in almost every way. The story is better, the direction is more accomplished and it includes a far more bodacious collection of gags, special appearances, film homages and early ’90s pop culture references.
The story takes place two years after the original. Since the events of the first movie, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) have graduated from high school and are working at a place called Pretzel & Cheese. They’re trying to get up the nerve to propose to their girlfriends, while also getting ready for what they hope will be a victory for their group Wyld Stallyns in an upcoming battle of the bands. But their plans are threatened by a former gym teacher and sit-up-champion-turned-evil-mastermind-from-the-future Chuck De Nomolos (played by Joss Ackland, memorable for his turn as the malevolent Arjen Rudd in Lethal Weapon II).
To defeat Bill and Ted, De Nomolos sends a pair of evil Bill and Ted robots – who look identical to the real thing – back in time (an obvious riff on 1984’s The Terminator). The robots accomplish this by throwing the boys off the Vasquez Rocks outcropping outside of Los Angeles, famous as the setting of the 1967 “Arena” episode of Star Trek, in which Captain Kirk defeats the reptilian Gorn. (Bill and Ted watch this episode earlier in the movie.)
Now dead, Bill and Ted encounter the Grim Reaper (William Sadler, memorable for his role as Heywood in The Shawshank Redemption). After a brief sojourn in hell, which includes riffs on everything from the 1921 German expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Clive Barker’s 1987 Hellraiser, Bill and Ted challenge Death to a contest. It’s a play on Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal, but instead of chess, the contest consists of Battleship, Clue, Electric Football and Twister. After his defeat, Death becomes Bill and Ted’s partner, and eventually ends up playing bass in their band.
To defeat the evil robot versions of themselves, Bill and Ted decide they need divine help, so they get Death to take them to heaven. At the pearly gates, they encounter the Gatekeeper, played by blues artist Taj Mahal, and quote lyrics from Poison‘s 1988 hit “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” winning their way into heaven. They meet an alien there named Station, who’s playing charades with Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein.
Station helps Bill and Ted build good robot versions of themselves, which they take to the battle of the bands to defeat the evil robots. After a final encounter with De Nomolos, they win the battle of the bands by playing a rendition of Kiss‘ “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II” (with added guitar work by Steve Vai), during which Bill is dressed up like a member of ZZ Top and Ted is dressed like Vai himself. The band they defeat is Primus; the MC of the event is played by Pam Grier (memorable for her role in Quentin Tarantino‘s 1997 Jackie Brown, which in turn referenced her storied ’70s blaxploitation career). At the end of the movie, Grier unzips herself to reveal that she’s actually George Carlin – reprising his character Rufus from the Bill and Ted film – who has been helping the boys all along.
Watch ‘Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey’ Trailer
As if all this isn’t enough, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey includes an appearance by Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin, references to The Exorcist, a gag in which Bill’s stepmom has divorced his dad and married Ted’s dad, scenes taking place at the same mall where the DeLorean-tracks-of-fire scene from Back to the Future was shot and a sequence filmed at the Tillman water reclamation plant in Van Nuys, which has served as the setting for the Starfleet Academy in various Star Trek spin-offs.
It also features one of the all-time greatest onscreen impersonations of Reeves, performed by Hal Landon Jr. as Ted’s father in a scene where he’s possessed by Ted’s ghost. Landon gets everything about Reeves right – from the way he holds his head pulled back from his shoulder to the elbows-in-hands-out way he holds his arms. Like so much of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the performance serves as a parody inside a parody of a parody, and works because of its entertainment value and self-deprecation.
In the end, it’s not only this awareness of its own ridiculousness that makes the movie so charming; it’s also the ability with which it’s made. While it features almost none of the time-travel and historical-figure shenanigans of the original, the sheer volume of silly references, director Pete Hewitt’s visual and storytelling talents and the full commitment of the cast make up for this absence. In retrospect, it’s clear that while Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure may have invented the characters and conceit, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey perfected it.