It has been 10 years since the first “Zombieland” movie arrived on the big screen and not only have things changed in our world, they’ve changed within that of the franchise’s as well. Yes, the specifics are different what with the apocalypse having arrived and civilization having ended within the “Zombieland” world, but there have been changes nonetheless. At the very outset of the new sequel, “Zombieland: Double Tap,” we are informed that the zombies have evolved. Rather than all being of equal intelligence, now the zombies range from super dumb (the “Homer”) to super smart (the “Hawking”) and have many shades in between. Those aren’t the only alterations to their world, but as it’s where the movie starts, it’s where this review will as well.
As for the real world, the writers of the original, Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, are back with this film (which is also written by Dave Callaham), and the director of the original, Ruben Fleischer, is back as well. These men have all gone on to bigger movies, so “Double Tap” is advertised as coming from the writers of “Deadpool” and the director of “Venom” rather than the creative minds of “Zombieland” simply returning alongside the original cast. And yes, that original cast—Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin—are back as well and still trying to make their way through a zombie-infested United States.
In a world that sees so many unnecessary, unenjoyable, sequels, “Zombieland: Double Tap” is anything but unenjoyable. From the very beginning of the movie, it is clear that the audience is going to be treated to the same sort of over the top insanity with a heart that makes the first movie work.
These four survivors—Tallahassee (Harrelson), Columbus (Eisenberg), Little Rock (Breslin), and Wichita (Stone)—are a family, even if they are loathe to admit it. Over the course of the last decade, Tallahassee has become something of a father figure to Little Rock, or perhaps it’s Little Rock that’s become a child figure to Tallahasee. Either way, that leads to tension as does the romantic relationship between Wichita and Columbus.
The actions of the characters in response to these relationships are big, but the movie, purposefully, never allows the audience’s emotions to hit the same peaks. This may be a horror comedy, but it is still a comedy and true fear for the relationships would ruin some of the humor and fun.
As new characters are introduced—Madison (Zoey Deutch), Berkeley (Avan Jogia), Nevada (Rosario Dawson), Albuquerque (Luke Wilson), and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch)—they all add a new wrinkle to the tale without it ever losing focus on our main heroes. And those heroes do a great job with all the zombie killing, whether it’s by gun, car, foot, watermelon, or any other ludicrous method.
One of the strongest features of the “Zombieland” films are the head fakes towards order when there is none to be had. Columbus insists on his rules for living through this zombie-infested world and the movies are quick to point out each and every time he follows a rule and regularly (not always) ignore it when he doesn’t. So, Columbus will often not “double tap” kill a zombie (that’s rule #2), but when he does, the movie tosses up the rule. It isn’t that the film is violating its core principles, but rather that it is fully acknowledging Columbus’s desire to place order into a world in which order cannot be placed. It is a way that Columbus keeps hold of his sanity when it otherwise might be lost forever and it offers a subtle acknowledgment from the filmmakers that they know what they are doing in creating this world.
“Zombieland: Double Tap” works because it offers a perfect balance between comedy and gross out zombie horror with just a little bit of heart and brains thrown in for good measure. It isn’t just that every actor up on the screen appears to be having a great time pretending that their character is having a horrible one, it’s that the audience will have a great time as well. Yes, it requires a specific audience, one that doesn’t mind brain-stomping and lots of vomit, but that audience is just going to love it.
It is difficult to suggest that “Zombieland: Double Tap” is exactly a necessary sequel, but it is a wonderful one. It is every bit as enjoyable as the original and makes one hope that, 10 years down (or sooner) we’ll get a third entry.
photo credit: Sony Pictures