Sequels can be such a crapshoot. The good ones take a story you already love and advance it in new and interesting ways. The bad ones simply rehash the original in unoriginal ways, leaving the audience cheated of both their money and their memories of what made the first movie so good.
Although there are times that Zombieland: Double Tap seems to veer dangerously close to running off the rails of good and crashing into a big wall of bad, there is enough inventiveness in the continuing saga of our four heroes to keep it on track. It helps that those heroes — Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) — are so much fun to watch as they battle the armies of the undead. It also helps that director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Venom) has a balanced sense of what the sequel needs to make the original fans happy and what it needs to take them, and new fans, onto the story’s next chapter.
So he opens up Double Tap with plenty of gore, using the slow-motion kill shot effect from the first movie to great use, and then brings his ragtag family of heroes to a new home where he can let them start bantering with each other (which this quartet does extremely well). Giving them the White House as their new home is a stroke of genius since it gives the four stars a chance to not only make fun of each other, like Wichita complaining that the eyes of the portrait of the 16th president’s portrait in the Lincoln bedroom creep her out or Tallahassee sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office.
Once the boxes of gore and guffaws have been checked and the sequel has made the 10 year leap to link up to the original, Fleischer settles down to start his characters on their new journey, one that will take them to new places, introduce them to new survivors and give them plenty of opportunities to kill new zombies. And we quickly learn that the mindless killing undead from 2009 hasn’t been simply rotting away waiting for the sequel to launch. They have evolved, too, to the point where they can now be classified in terms of their potential threat, from the extremely dumb, slow and easily killable, known as Homers (after Homer Simpson) to the extremely smart, fast and almost unkillable T-1000s after the killers in Terminator 2; Judgement Day).
As happy as the audience may be to see the gang back together, spending a decade together has made Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita, and Little Rock more than a little tired of each other at times so it feels inevitable that they need to break up and try to go their separate ways. Of course, there’s never any doubt that they will get back together, but the separation gives the story some welcome fresh air as each main character gets more time to shine on their own. It also makes room for new characters to be put in the mix, some with great success and some leaving you hoping that every time they show up on screen they are there only to be killed in some excruciating way.
So let’s start with Madison (Zoey Deutch) a bubble-headed blonde that Tallahassee and Columbus find living in an abandoned mall inside the refrigerator of a frozen yogurt shop. With a voice that makes nails on a chalkboard seem almost musical, Madison starts out as annoying, but kinda goofy before shifting into just annoying. The way the script falls back on “dumb blonde’ jokes to try and sell the character to the audience is huge step down from the usual banter of the group and, frankly, sort of insulting. So you may be excused for cheering to yourself when Madison meets her doom, just as you can also be excused for your negative reaction when you discover you cheered for nothing.
On the bright side, Double Tap introduces us to a character called Nevada who runs an Elvis-themed motel (filled with authentic items you just know she took from Graceland when it closed down) that serves as a setting for some of the best scenes, Not only do Tallahassee and Columbus run into their doppelgangers (played by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch), but gives Harrelson a chance to bust out his inspired Elvis impersonation. The fact that Nevada is played by the always delightful Rosario Dawson only adds to the joy of the scenes, as does the palpable chemistry between Tallahassee and Nevada.
After a few more mini-adventures the band regroups at a place called Babylon, a hippie commune where guns are not just forbidden but actually melted down to make peace signs for residents to wear around their necks. It’s fun to watch Tallahassee try to live without his guns (especially Harrellson is such a hippie at heart in real life), but the real fun happens when hundreds of the new, improve zombies descend on Babylon to feed. Sure it’s chaotic and over-the-top, but that is just what it needs to be to bring this second chapter of the Zombieland saga to a satisfying close. And if the final scenes leave the door open for a third Zombieland film, so be it. Here’s just hoping they won’t wait another decade to do it.
As a final note, be sure not to leave the theater until you’ve seen the post-credit scene. It’s fantastic.
- John Black, Zombieland: Double Tap