In case you haven’t seen a movie in the last 11 years, we’re in a bit of a “sequel” craze in Hollywood. While they’ve recently become financial goldmines, very few of them seem to ever have any artistic or storytelling merit. For every Dark Knight, there’s a Wolverine. If we look back to previous decades where sequels actually made LESS than their predecessors, the average level quality might even be more horrendous. There have, however, been significant sequel achievements that have lived up to or exceeded expectations, therefore justifying their existence, that should be used to set the bar today: Terminator 2, Empire Strikes Back, etc. But what about Comedy sequels? There have been a few gems along the way but mostly, this genre seems to spit out the most rancid, pointless sequels out there. So what does ole Hoffbeast consider the cream of the crop for comedy sequels? Let me ask you this: what number are you thinking of?
That’s right, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is, without a doubt in my mind, the most excellent comedy sequel ever made and should be used as a blue-print for anyone planning venturing into the waters of comedy sequels. Come with me while we examine what makes Bogus Journey so triumphant.
Let’s first examine the thought behind the entire movie. Imagine if you were Chris Matheson or Ed Solomon, the writers of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and your little time travel movie that struggled for financial backing and distribution became a surprise smash hit across the globe. You’re asked to do a sequel. Wouldn’t the safe bet be to churn out a cookie cutter replica and send Bill & Ted back out into the circuits of time for quick, sure thing?
Thankfully, they didn’t think that way. Instead, they decided that it’s not the premise that made the film great, it’s the characters. Rather than take the easy road, they created an entirely new journey for them, drawing inspiration from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, and Powell & Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, and took our loveable duo in a different direction through Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. That’s a ballsy move if I’ve ever heard of one, and when it comes to sequels, risks aren’t usually part of the equation. Right off the bat, it’s artistically more credible than Xeroxed déjà vus like Home Alone 2, or outright shit-fests like Caddyshack 2.
Like the original Star Wars trilogy, Bill & Ted’s overall story isn’t 100% complete at the end of the first film, yet there is closure to the arc of the movie itself. That is, they blew up the death star but Vader and the empire are still a threat. This is a very tricky, very impressive, and very overlooked form of storytelling that is absolutely necessary if sequels are to be involved. To invoke a feeling of closure yet creating an opportunity where more can be told is most excellent achievement.
Now it can be argued that comedies shouldn’t be about long stories with multiple chapters, and that any sequels should really just be a cherry on top to a nice piece of cake. I think that’s a non-non heinous way of looking at story telling and, quite frankly, a little disrespecting to comedy as a genre. I argue that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to expect less from comedy; it’s still storytelling and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey does it right. It takes us further into the journey as we learn more about the characters and see them fulfill the destiny we crave for them.
Another approach to comedy sequels that is respect worthy, however, is when they are treated as loosely related serials; using the same characters we love different situations without really acknowledging previous installments or the lessons learned from them. The James Bond approach if you will. The best example of this: Christmas Vacation. The worst example of this: European Vacation.
Side Note: I consider Christmas Vacation to be the greatest movie that happens-to-be a sequel, but for the purposes of this post and personal taste, we are looking at the chapter approach to sequels and therefore it falls short.
Unlike such mediocre follow-ups like Major League 2, or Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Bill & Ted didn’t succumb to the classic pitfall of aiming at a younger demographic for the sequel. Even GhostBusters 2 made the mistake of putting their toy marketing above pleasing fans. What Bogus Journey did was another ballsy and unexpected move that I doubt we would see today outside the genius world of Pixar: it grew up with its fans.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was a massive hit for a younger generation thanks to it’s G rating, great catchphrases, and remarkable ability to make a teenager’s humor feel genuine and family friendly at the same time. That’s tricky. If you don’t believe me, try imagining SuperBad being as funny with a G rating.
For the sequel, rather than aiming young to sell toys, they aimed at the MTV demographic (which, at the time, was mid teens to early 20s). By 1991, the fans of the ’88 original had grown into the PG-13 demographic so why not have fun joining them? It dealt with alcohol, sex, and occasional cursing, creating newer areas of comedy to reach out to.
It also dealt with characters that were a little older and living on their own. Not to mention, elemts of death and destiny that can be examined at greater depths than simply passing a history exam like the first. To have both the characters, the age demographic, and the subject matter grow to new levels in a sequel is almost unheard of and results in a film that is undoubtedly funnier than the first.
Just take a look at this clip here when the Evil Robot Bill & Ted kill the Good Bill & Ted.
So we’ve established why it’s better than the bad comedy sequels, but what makes it better than the good ones? Due to its ability to explore different areas, and expand their world, the writers of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey seemed to have realized that they didn’t need to rely on repetition of old bits and jokes to fill it with laughs. There are a few callbacks at first – Bill’s step mom, Missy for example – but the vast majority of jokes and situations are completely fresh and can actually work both logically and humorously for somebody who never saw the original.
One of the greatest comedy sequel writers, Mike Myers, is actually the most guilty of this. As amazingly funny as Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me and Wayne’s World 2 are, they are filled to the brim with references and, worst, repeats of jokes from their predecessors. They may be funnier films at the end of the day, but it’s a very safe kind of funny and much less impressive. One can’t help but imagine what those movies would be like if they were a bit fresher with the jokes.
Here is a clip in Bogus Journey where a whole new bit where Ted, as a ghost, possesses his Dad at work is devised that becomes one of the funniest parts of the movie.
Warning: Spoiler Alert
The real brilliance of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey that separates it from all the rest, though, is the fact that it is able to create an overall story that amounts to an epic trilogy. Because it’s a comedy – and comedy is about being concise – it does it in two installments rather than three.
First, let’s look at the story as a whole and how it compares to your classic trilogy structure, ala Star Wars. There’s no doubt that Star Wars is the most successful, most copied, and well crafted sequels out there so it’s the best blue print to hold while examining the 3 film structure. In the first, we meet our characters leading their ordinary lives. In Star Wars, Luke works on his uncle’s boring farm and we see little hope for him becoming the pilot he dreams to be. In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, we meet Bill & Ted who also don’t seem like they’ll reach their goals of becoming rock stars while going to boring school and jamming in their tiny garage. They encounter an older bearded gentlemen who leads them into a new world of adventure and we have a most excellent time. The film works on it’s own, yet again hints at a larger story to tell. In the second film, just as Empire Strikes Back did, they expand on the world. We see a full vision of the future that we only saw snippets of in the first, and we expand the premise into heaven and hell while keeping time travel in the mix. Empire gave us Yoda and cemented Vader as a villian just as Bogus gave us Station and cemented De Nomolos as the villain. The old standby for part 2s is to leave a character ‘s– Han Solo - future uncertain as he is separated from the group. Part 3’s usually begin as they struggle to get back and finish the business with the enemy. If you want to look at Bogus Journey as a combination of part 2 and part 3, the split would be when Bill & Ted are summoned down to hell. Part 2 would be about their death and haunting, part 3 starts as they struggle to get back to the living and defeat the evil robots and De Nomolos. In Star Wars, the second and third film act as two long parts of one story that culminate in the final battle between good and evil that sets up a brand new world where Luke’s dreams have come true and the future is bright. For Bill & Ted, because comedy is about being concise, they go ahead and skip the need for the third film and get right down to the final battle between the Wyld Stallyns and De Nomolos, crushing him and all that he stands for while creating their utopion future where they live up to their potential.
There are a few famous trilogies in other genres that could have benefited from this approach too, if you ask me. Take Pirates of the Carribean, for example. First film: story onto itself that is fun and complete yet hints at a larger story. Second film: introduces new characters, expands the world, and ends leaving Jack Sparrow’s future uncertain, lost from everybody. Part 3 was the struggle back to the final showdown. Classic Trilogy…yet it was boring as hell. The first half of part 3, like too many others, was boring and ultimately pointless when you step back and look at the whole story. It just wasted time to justify making it 3 separate films. Howabout Keanu’s other epic story, The Matrix? First film: amazing, works on its own, and hints at more. Second film: expands the world, adds characters, leaves Keanu’s future uncertain. Third film: major boring shit. If only they had emulated Bill & Ted’s conciseness! Smash 2 and 3 together, jump to the ending, and you’ve got a perfect trilogy to the concise mind!
And it is here, my friends, where Bogus Journey beats…that’s right…Back to the Future’s sequels. Yes, I know – Back to The Future II is an amazing movie that will always stand the test of time (no pun intended) but the fact remains that it is an incomplete story. The end of the film is not the end of the story, leaving Doc Brown’s future uncertain as he is lost in the Wild West., leaving it up to the third installment to complete the epic story. And the third movie, though funny, does not deliver the goods. It’s not as good as the previous two and suffers the common mistake of forcing am unnecessary 3rd movie on us that needs to kill a lot of time. And even when it gets to the end of the story– Doc on the flying train with the weird wiener pointing children – it’s kind of awkward and doesn’t really say much. It feels forced and not very well written, therefore bringing the two sequels and their intentions down with it.
The ending of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is pretty damn perfect and worth throwing up your lighter, even though an encore isn’t necessary. And that’s exactly what a good series should do. If you are somebody who can respect comedy as an equally merited genre of writing, there is no doubting that Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is a stellar piece of work. The fact that enough effort was put into a comedy sequel to be compared to an epic trilogy is proof enough that something bigger is going on than most comedy sequels that just cash in on success. But a the end of the day, what makes a comedy good is how funny it is.
I leave you with the final moments of their story and a credits sequence that keeps an audience laughing way after the house lights go up. If you do anything with your 4th of July Weekend, I highly recommend you revisit this comedy classic and see for yourself why HBO has been playing it on heavy rotation after 19 years, and why the Hoffbeast thinks it’s the greatest comedy sequel ever.