It’s been ten years since Ruben Fleischer’s flesh-eating world of the undead hit the pop culture zeitgeist back in 2009 with Zombieland. The clever and immensely humorous zombie wasteland came back to the big screen with a sequel that continues to rot the world and shine life within its deathless franchise.
The first Zombieland was unlike anything I had ever seen—a gleeful yet frightening, bouncy, gory balance of self-referential nature and sporadic chuckles from characters that sparked meaningful and compelling stories to both themselves and the audience. It was a zombie film that knew it was a zombie film, and it was blast watching it on repeat as it was for Fleischer’s joy of messing with the tropes of the hardened genre. Once news broke out about a sequel, an even bigger blast of triumph somersaulted inside me. A new adventure was set to develop before our very eyes with beloved characters that had quickly grown up and submersed to “the little things in life”, with a twist of the nomadic and family squabbling lifestyle—along with the addition of a new breed of zombies and the passing of unequipped human survivors.
Returning with a wall-to-wall narration that explains the milieu and the characters’ daily existence over the past ten years we’ve missed, Double Tap leaves nothing but pure joy as the handbook of zombie-surviving rules welcomes us back through the arms of the obsessively-resourceful Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg). Still obtaining his endless love for stone cold Wichita (Emma Stone), the pair caress the first half of the film as playful lovebirds until conflict strikes, as the now spunky and rebellious Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and redneck warrior Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) endeavor in the father-and-daughter relationship that sorely lacks the wise and loving banter we once knew from the original. This could be due to the fact that Little Rock is now a teenager, and the case of hanging out with the same three people for ten years has left a mark on her—an act that causes her to embrace real change as her whole life seems just a huge resemblance from an action-packed video-game (she is even gifted with guns from Tallahassee, who treats her as his surrogate daughter and faithful zombie-killing sidekick at the same time).
Overrun by zombies time and time again, Little Rock’s character showcases the problematic claims and ill-driven thoughts that make her want to leave the only makeshift family she’s ever known. Hitting the road to find a new life for herself, with Wichita coming along (a direct parallel to the original), this concludes to the film bringing it’s own complications, miles of energy and a raft of new characters. And it’s not long before the shrine of bullets and mindless fun advances the story in a manner that excites us to no end—leaving us to enroll on the sharp words of Tallahassee: “Time to nut up, or shut up.”
With Double Tap still holding that brand of smart and witheringly condescending humor as the original, there’s no doubt that the follow-up to the irreverent cult classic is a respectable sequel that we’ve always longed for. With almost an exact lay-out as the first and the running time remaining decent enough to capture sweet mementos, Double Tap succeeds with satisfaction and great delight as the monstrous thirst of flesh beckons at the foursome’s call—and to the fresh combination of other characters as well. Some that surprised, yet at times, seemed accidental within the mix. However, none of this prevents the film from scoring some laughs, but instead it puts a lot more work on the characters that aren’t quite elevated with the original four’s structure.
For instance, we are introduced to Madison (Zoey Deutch), a broad mimic of a ditzy blonde that mispronounces her words, plays dumb and dresses primarily in pink-with a dip of “fake fur” as she puts it. Deutch’s performance didn’t entail a lot, but it enhanced how different her character was to the leads—she’s an accidental optimist that shined as much delight as she’s proposed to, and she made the sequel feel a lot more natural, even when her daftness spiraled into complete annoyance.
Then there’s Berkeley (Avan Jogia), the pretentious, long-haired, guitar-strumming and weed-smoking pacifist that, from the act of his performative worldly knowledge, managed to survive a whole decade in an apocalyptic wasteland (which baffles me to no end). Luring Little Rock away from Wichita with his good looks and passing off Bob Dylan music as his own, his presence on screen seems out of touch with the rest of them—he’s a carefree lingering mystery that contributes almost nothing to the film, but a journey to Babylon that favors strategy and evasion over the act of violence—and even that place expresses no real purpose but to move the story on. Maybe it was a lack of development that ended his screen time to a short, but it sure seemed long with the irrelevant forces that shifted our beloved character towards him. It’s only a treat that Tallahassee got into a fit of rage about it: “I have nothing against pacifists. I just want to beat the shit out of them,” because that might’ve been the only moment in the film that made me excited for what was yet to come of him. Besides that, he was a hollow shell of a character that motivated and released no meaningful role within the film and fit no use to Zombieland‘s cherished foursome.
As the film inhales more of the living dead, Double Tap soon becomes a road trip through past nostalgia and recycled old goods (“goods” meanin Columbus’ handbook of hefty rules), and a trip down memory lane that brings the jokes, quotes, cutting repartee and efficient impersonations from Zombieland right back to our laps. However, as the sequel’s witty sarcasm and ambition may shine through rejoice and feel somewhat special at times, in actuality, it’s just not as memorable as what it felt like in the past. The film is funny without a doubt, and the leads still bring the charm and goofiness as they first did ten years ago, but there’s something missing from the film that doesn’t make it feel like the “home” Columbus once favored to be ours too. Yes, there’s a whole lot of butt-kicking, renewed tension, horror thrills and zombie infestations within its scenes, but I think the nature that mismatched the film to a complete different enhancement was the amount of newcomers and realigning the film created.
Through meeting the irresistibly adorable and talkative Valley girl who spent most of her time staying alive by hiding in a Pinkberry freezer at the mall, there’s no doubt that the remainder of the film wouldn’t conclude in a selection of other presences—some that would contribute nearly as much as the leads but wouldn’t radiate the same sunny guileless in the cold, bleak world that Madison’s Juicy Couture sweatpants and Von Dutch tank top would align through. When the gang walks through an Elvis-themed motel near Graceland, we are introduced to a vigorous, butt-kicking bartender named Nevada (Rosario Dawson) who has made an Elvis Presley museum as her home. As we learn through cold, hard stares, Nevada will kill the culprit who “murrayed” (murdered) Bill Murray (the credit going all to Columbus). Nevada’s appearance within the film comes with nothing but another “Wichita-like” side-kick that’s sharp-witted and executed with the same ruthless and strong-pursuit to fight.
Though as the film advances with more ferocious threats and humor that turns every kill into a sick punchline, her presence evolves to become a necessity within the film and within Tallahassee’s love life—their ditzy nature of romance and drug-induced love for Elvis’ songs collide to a wholesome and perfect match. But this doesn’t go the same for Tallahassee and Columbus’ doppelgängers: alpha male Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and fidgety Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch), who impose nothing but a matching special dynamic and indistinguishable persona that parts the two pairs mirroring themselves through Terminator quotes and begrudging looks. In summary, the characters are there plainly for a gag, and to move the story on, but, as expected, it’s not long before Albuquerque and Flagstaff are grappling for their lives from zombies until they eventually become one themselves.
For a team of four that battled out an amusement park filled with zombies and reassigned to the White House with a cling to domesticity in order to survive, it’s hard to differ how they separated, yet again, and bundled their way to a high-rise destination with a colony of pacifists who think music and weed could keep them alive. But hey, having the revival of the core foursome hit the road again after ten years of being gone feels special to say the least—particularly when the best one of all is brought back with a good heart after the closing credits. Essentially, this film was refreshing and independent in its own way but I guess the main problem I had with it was that they didn’t show a glimpse of Tallahassee’s “spongy, yellow, delicious bastards” once.
Zombieland: Double Tap is now in theaters worldwide