Zombieland: Double Tap, 2019.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer.
Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Avan Jogia, Thomas Middleditch, Bill Murray, Luke Wilson, Al Roker, and Grace Randolph.
Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock move to the American heartland as they face off against evolved zombies, fellow survivors, and the growing pains of the snarky makeshift family.
After-the-fact movie sequels rarely turn out well, especially in the comedy genre, so between this and the dubious post-Zombieland track record of director Ruben Fleischer (Venom), it was totally understandable that this five-years-too-late effort would be met with muted enthusiasm, if not outright skepticism, from fans.
And while Zombieland: Double Tap does desperately little to expand upon the original’s formula, even with double the budget, it succeeds by staying true to the tone and personality of the first film and its likeable “heroes,” while keeping up an energetic clip throughout.
A decade later, survivors Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are fine-tuned veterans of the zombie apocalypse, but their idyllic quasi-family unit is thrown into disarray when a case of itchy feet causes Wichita and Little Rock to make a hasty exit.
In case you haven’t gathered from that short synopsis, Double Tap isn’t any more interested in threading together a compelling plot than its predecessor, which similarly established a barest-bones zombie apocalypse premise around which a host of delightful characters could chew the fat and occasionally fight the undead.
And indeed, it would be fair to say that this sequel lacks ambition, as all of the hallmark staples that defined the first film are recalled near enough wholesale; Columbus’ various rules for staying alive, the quick-fire, pop-culture-infused chit-chat, and of course, a slow-motion opening titles action montage set to another banger of a Metallica track.
But unlike most callback-heavy comedy sequels, there’s a distinct lack of desperation in the movie’s attempts to capture the original’s former glory, perhaps due in part to the first film’s status more as a chilled-out cult hit rather than a monolithic genre classic.
The clear reason that Double Tap works, aside from the four principal cast members all reprising their roles, is returning screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who over the last decade, with their work on the Deadpool movies, have perfected their brand of ridiculous banter and cartoonish action wrapped around a low-maintenance plot.
Like its predecessor, this sequel has an endearingly fidgety quality, refusing to sit down for more than a few moments in any one location before either a new famous face or hungry zombie horde comes a-knocking. In each case, an attempt has at least been made to upgrade these elements; there’s a new breed of super-zombies which the gang quickly nicknames the “T-800s,” and the supporting cast is decidedly more fleshed-out, with amusing cameos from the likes of Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, and Thomas Middleditch as survivors the quartet stumbles across.
But of the new cast members, the easy MVP is Zoey Deutch, who plays the cute-yet-ditzy Madison, a young woman who immediately takes a shine to Columbus and, predictably, bristles up against Wichita. Though Madison as-written isn’t much more than a vapid blonde stereotype, Deutch’s performance is knowing enough that the film just about gets away with it.
These smaller roles are of course a compliment to the focal quartet, who return with an over-the-odds enthusiasm that accentuates Reese and Wernick’s script terrifically. Considering that Harrelson, Eisenberg and Stone have all received Oscar nominations since the first Zombieland hit cinemas – three nominations and a win in Stone’s case, in fact – this could so easily have been a mere paycheck stop-gap between more “worthy” roles, yet there’s little hiding how much they’re relishing being back in this team-up.
As delightful as the squabbling between Harrelson and Eisenberg in particular continues to be, though, Breslin does feel rather under-served by the script – not the first time Reese and Wernick have shoved a prominent female character to the periphery, ala Deadpool 2. Little Rock is ultimately boxed into an uninspired subplot where she falls in with a dreamy pacifist hippie (Avan Jogia), and all it does for her character is keep her away from her three pals for most of the movie.
The film as a whole does also feel slightly over-burdened by the romantic drama between Eisenberg and Stone’s characters, because as cute as this pairing is, are audiences sincerely interested in whether or not they stay together?
These occasional scripting foibles are girded on all sides, however, by an impressive uptick on the action front. If the first film kept the zombie-slaying relatively infrequent and disappointingly lacking in quality gore, Double Tap puts its larger budget to smart use with a greater incidence of creative blood-letting, especially during a single-take battle set in an Elvis-themed hotel. It’s all still totally secondary to the characters goofing around and stumbling from one silly comedy set-up to the next, but gorehounds get plenty more guts for their buck this time around.
Though its conception invited low expectations, Zombieland: Double Tap is ultimately not just a decent late-day sequel, it’s very nearly as fun and charming as the original. It certainly plays safe with what made the first film a hit and does precious little to truly position itself as a Bigger, Better Sequel, but that lack of originality is compensated for by the beefed-up set-pieces and wealth of added value provided by the extended supporting cast.
A rare belated sequel that boasts most of the original’s vigour and energy, even if it’s a fundamentally unambitious, more-of-the-same follow-up. Oh, and make sure to stick around for the outrageous mid-credits scene – you won’t regret it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.