Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Avan Jogia, Rosario Dawson
For a film that when it came out back in 2009 was viewed as a fun, relatively clever but largely insignificant schlock comedy, Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland proved to be ahead of the curve. The ten years since its release have seen zombies experience a pop culture resurgence with ten seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead plus a further five of its spinoff Fear of the Walking Dead. In that same period, Zombieland’s quartet of stars have combined for six Oscar nominations between them, while writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese struck it big with Deadpool and Deadpool 2. So even though a decade has passed, it made sense that they would get the band back together for a sequel, and thus we Zombieland: Double Tap.
After the best part of a decade on the move, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have set up base in the White House, a relative fortress which allows them to live safe from the zombie threat that surrounds them. But with survival no longer immediately occupying them, for all bar Columbus, discontentment starts to set in. Little Rock, now a young woman, is sick of being treated like a kid and wants to get out and find some people her own age. Wichita is starting to wonder whether her relationship with Columbus is legitimate or merely the result of his being the only guy her age she knows who isn’t a zombie. Tallahassee just wants to get back out there and do what he does best, kill some zombies. So it is not long before Wichita and Little Rock, once again, do a runner and leave the boys behind. But when Little Rock then splits from her sister, hooking up with a pacifist musician called Berkeley (Avan Jogia), Wichita re-teams with the guys and they venture out in pursuit of Little Rock as she heads for a supposedly idyllic community known as Babylon.
Comedy sequels are notoriously hard to do well, largely because once you have resolved the outrageous situation in which you have placed your characters that creates the grounds for comedy, an attempt to recreate that situation feels transparently contrived (see The Hangover Part II) and the resulting film feels like a pale imitation of the first. In the case of Zombieland, however, that outrageous situation was never resolved. While the first film came to a conclusion, there was never an option for happily ever after. The characters still live in a world overrun by zombies. That is something they will always have to navigate, so it does not feel contrived to check back in with these characters to see how they are doing.
Writers Wernick and Reese, joined here by Dave Callaham, shift the film’s focus, though. While the first film was all about the question of how you survive the zombie apocalyse, with our heroes ultimately finding that the key to their survival was sticking together and forming a makeshift family, in Zombieland: Double Tap, while the zombie threat remains, the central question of the film is no longer how do you survive in Zombieland, but how do you live in Zombieland. If a world infested with zombies is the new normal, how do you go about living a normal-ish life there? What does coming of age look like in that world? How do romantic relationships work in that world?
Zombieland: Double Tap gives us new and improved zombies. Columbus identifies distinct forms of zombies – Homers, Ninjas , Hawkings and T-800s – each providing their own specific challenge of comic opportunities when encountered. We also meet more human characters. While Little Rock takes off with Berkeley, our remaining trio are joined by ditzy valley girl Madison (Zoey Dutch, who brings some solid laughs), with Tallahassee and Columbus later being confronted by doppelgangers in the form of Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch). But while the new elements keep things fresh enough, it is ultimately the ones elements that really make the film work: namely the brilliant chemistry between the four likeable leads; the knowing, pop-culture infused comedy (even if the pop-culture references are stuck in 2009 when the zombie apocalypse struck); and the gruesome violence rendered slapstick comedy by our emotionally detachment from the zombies (The ‘Zombie Kill of the Week’ gag from the first film has been replaced by ‘Zombie Kill of the Year’ this time around).
After a few years of not quite hitting the mark with films like Gangster Squad and Venom, Fleischer has rediscovered some of his mojo by going back to where it all began. Gory fun with more than a few genuine laughs, Zombieland: Double Tap is a classic case there being something there for those who enjoyed the original even if the film is not likely to unlock a new audience. While there is undeniably a drop off in quality from the original to the sequel, the film retains enough of what made the first film work to keep the fans happy.
Review by Duncan McLean
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