Review: Beavis and Butt-head Do the Universe Marks the Return of ’90s Empty-Headed Fun

Admittedly, MTV’s “Beavis and Butt-Head” series (which began in 1993) and the characters’ first movie, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996) are works that I dearly loved when they were new and have rarely revisited since. But since creating the perpetually chuckling teens, writer/director Mike Judge (who voices both characters) has gone on to give birth to some of the sharpest social satire and commentary in modern comedy, with Office Space, Idiocracy, Extract, and the HBO series “Silicon Valley.” This time around, in their constant attempts to “score” with the ladies, their journeys take them not just out of Midland, Texas, but also off to space camp and eventually into space itself.

Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe opens in 1998, with the boys getting in so much trouble after destroying the entire school science fair, they actually land in court, where a sympathetic judge allows them to win the fair’s top prize: a trip to space camp. There B&B meet mission leader Serena (voiced by Andrea Savage) and her second in command (Nat Faxon). Thinking they have been brought there to have sex with Serena (and believing she’s okay with that), they throw themselves into the training (naturally, thinking it’s sex endurance training), and inadvertently become part of the next mission to the International Space Station, thanks to their skills with the very phallic docking crane. Of course when the time comes for the maneuver, they botch it and end up destroying part of their space shuttle… That event unlocks a series of subsequent events, beginning with them accidentally floating off the shuttle with no hope of returning.

After being sucked through a black hole, the boys end up coming back to reality in 2022, where Serena is now the Texas governor and Beavis and Butt-Head are met with alternate reality versions of themselves (named Smart Beavis and Smart Butt-Head, although “smart” is a relative term), who inform them that they must jump through a portal in order to save the entire universe. So naturally the kids do anything but go through the portal. Trying to make any sense of B&B Do the Universe is about as logical as dissecting a Bill and Ted movie. Neither are meant to be scrutinized, but they’re immensely fun to watch. The boys are chased by the NSA (led by an agent voice by Chi McBride), the governor, and those alternate versions of themselves, all the while the kids think they’re simply chasing down an opportunity to have sex.

As overly simplistic as it sounds, there are touches from Judge and co-screenwriter Lew Morton that elevate the film, such as Beavis genuinely falling in love with Serena and even saying that if she doesn’t want to have sex with him, that’s okay. Naturally, he’s brutalized by Butt-Head for catching feelings, but it still reveals a hidden side to the more primal of the two friends. That being said, the film also brings back the classic Beavis alter ego, Cornholio, who ends up sparking a prison riot, so maybe things haven’t changed that much. But filmmaker Judge also offers up one of the sharpest bits of satire of his career in a sequence in which the boys learn that they have white privilege, and they misguidedly see just how far they can push that privilege.

Because the film is essentially a glorified road movie, many familiar characters from the B&B universe don’t take part in the story. But we do get vocal work from the likes of Gary Cole, David Herman, Tig Notaro, Martin Starr, Jimmy O. Yang, and Judge favorite Stephen Root. Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe is far from a great movie, but it is a great reminder what empty-headed fun used to be. Many of the boys’ attitudes in this movie are wildly inappropriate, but their behavior is weirdly chaste. Clearly, Judge is mocking hormonal males and their Cro-Magnon ways of thinking about the world, women, destruction, and music (sadly, the film features no music video commentary from Beavis and Butt-Head). But he also sets up the kids as a means of breaking down the stuffy social norms that surround them. Apparently, the movie is meant to re-introduce the characters to a new generation of viewers just before a relaunch of the series begins, so if for no other reason, Do the Universe is pretty cool. 

The film is now playing on Paramount+.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.