Somehow, it’s been ten whole years since Zombieland hit cinema screens. That means it’s been a decade since we were introduced to the neurotic Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), the hyper-redneck Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), survivalist supreme Wichita (Emma Stone) and her younger sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). It’s very unusual for modern cinema to wait so long for a sequel; perhaps, terrifyingly, we’re only getting one now because ‘The Noughties’ have become as retro as Ghostbusters or Evil Dead.
Regardless of the existential crises behind the delay, Zombieland: Double Tap is a follow-up which is happily unafraid to embrace the time passed since its original outing, both within the plot and through Columbus’s returning voiceover. To either contentedness or chagrin (depending on which character you look at), not much is new for the foursome and the wasteland that humanity now lives in: save for some variances in zombie behavior that don’t actually affect the plot too much, the only thing that seems to have really changed is Little Rock’s growth from pre-teen to yearning, young adult.
Columbia Pictures and director Ruben Fleischer happened across a winning formula with their original undead comedy and, as is so often the case, have stuck with it here. Just like in the characters’ lives, the key difference in plot revolves around the youngest member of their hit squad/family (Breslin), who escapes to the promise of a different life in spite of the comfy faux-domestic survival that their existence has become. The film follows a twisted road trip as her cohorts set off to recover their sister/friend/”daughter” across the charred remains of America, complimented at various moments by a revolving door of new crewmates.
It’s in this rotation of fresh companions – or rather, in the moments where it most strays from the Zombieland blueprint – that the film struggles. For a variety of reasons, none of these newbies survive, which is ironic considering they would have so far endured as long as our protagonists. From Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch’s döppelganger double-act to Zoey Deutch and Avan Jogia’s millennial stereotypes, their audition tapes never last long before they become gory victims or nagging annoyances – or both. The only character that does seem to add any real substance to our undead-herding heroes is Nevada (Rosario Dawson).
Though she does flirt with becoming merely Harrelson’s romantic foil – the Wichita to his Columbus, if you will – she proves herself more than capable of laying waste to scores of the walking dead and in doing so, both saves our stars and makes you question why more hasn’t been made of Dawson’s obvious talent for kicking big-screen ass.
This isn’t to say that Double Tap is just a dreary retread of everything the original got right – it’s a retread alright, just not the dreary kind. If you were here in 2009 and enjoyed the pre-Walking Dead bloody innovation and the pre-Scott Pilgrim vs. The World on-screen cues, then you’ll eat up the steady flow of video game absurdity like a demon of the dead all over again. Just like ‘Pacific Playland’ previously offered safe haven and kill contraptions aplenty, here the skyscraper commune of ‘Babylon’ brings a genuinely hair-raising conclusion to events, and if you adored “Zombie Kill of the Week” then get ready to leave ‘ZombieLAND’ and be introduced to ‘ZombieWORLD’.
In the midst of zombie-mania all those years ago, Zombieland offered an inventive and fun-filled alternate take on the genre’s sudden and rampant revival. Fleischer (now the famous director of Venom), Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (now the famous writers of Deadpool), and David Callaham are aware of exactly how, where and why the original film succeeded. Along with their leading players, it is to their original audiences that they apparently dedicate this sequel – put simply, it would be foolish to buy a ticket here expecting another fresh entry into the decades-old zombie canon. Instead, make like a few of those famous Columbus rules: “Travel Light” (on expectation), “Get a Kick-Ass Partner” and get ready to “Enjoy the Little Things” all over again.