Starring: Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Emma Stone (La La Land), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Rosario Dawson (Sin City), Zoey Deutch (Set It Up), Luke Wilson (Idiocracy)
Director: Ruben Fleischer (Venom)
Writers: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Deadpool) and Dave Callaham (The Expendables)
Runtime: 1 hour 39 minutes
Release Date: 18th October (US, UK)
Just when it seems like zombie craze has finally gone, only now does Zombieland decide to return to our screens. When the first film arrived back in 2009, it not only hit right at the pop culture zeitgeist of the moment but also was a defibrillator shock to the careers of its four main stars. A sequel has been in the works ever since, but the stars’ suddenly-packed schedule, writers Reese & Wernick busy in the land of Deadpool and waning interest in the zombie sub-genre have held it back. For a while, it seemed like a project that not only would never get off the ground, but maybe shouldn’t. Well, Double Tap is finally here regardless and, whilst the zombie apocalypse may have continued to rot this world, there’s still a little life left in this franchise.
Picking up in real time after the events of the first film (firmly placing it now as an alternate timeline rather than a possible future), the Zombieland formula hasn’t changed too much. The film is structurally similar to the first, being essentially yet another series of zany set pieces on their way to a final destination, but the pacing and rhythm remain as tight as ever. There’s definitely a thematic evolution brought on by the time gap, mainly focused around the tumultuous relationship between Columbus (Eisenberg) and Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin) growing into adulthood, but that family dynamic is a little upset due to Breslin spending much of her screen time away from the core cast. The humour this time around does rely on a of call backs to the first and meta references to its place in pop culture, but there’s just enough that are funny compared to lazy, and some of the fresh jokes are just as worthy of the original. The film definitely has a throwback feel and, despite time having moved forward with the audience, it still feels like it was made only a year or two after the first. Fortunately, unlike some of its contemporaries, the humour has aged far less poorly, and certainly stands as one of the better comedy sequels in recent memory; then again, considering other comparable examples like Dumber and Dumber To or Zoolander 2, the competition isn’t exactly fierce.
Zombieland primarily worked down to the quality and chemistry of its main cast, who had to hold the movie together with nary a side character to interact with (other than the obvious brain-hungry hordes). Woody Harrelson is as brazen and backwards as ever as Tallahassee, and other than a brief subplot between him and newcomer Nevada (Dawson) his motivations are much the same just with the details swapped out. Jesse Eisenberg once again takes narration duties as Columbus and is still his charmingly neurotic self, but the film ultimately fails to visibly develop him and his relationship with Emma Stone’s Wichita. Their shared subplot hits something of a wall early on and remains mostly unresolved until the plot abruptly decides it needs to be, and it’s ultimately a tad unsatisfying. Abigail Breslin’s Little Rock has obviously changed most since last we saw her from a doe-eyed mischievous scamp to a frustrated young adult, but the film fails to do little more than the obvious “I need independence to find myself” malarkey with her. The main cast certainly make the best of their material and generate enough laughs, but when you lay it all out they all somewhat end up barely ahead of where they started.
For Double Tap, a bunch more supporting characters have been introduced in comparison to the first, and they all bring a little needed variety. Rosario Dawson feels a little underused as Nevada but brings her natural charm to every scene she can, and her chemistry with Harrelson is something one would hope gets further expansion in a potential third instalment. Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch’s appearance as conspicuous mirrors of Harrelson and Eisenberg is a gag that starts out tired and obvious, grows into something very funny and absurd, before then dragging on too long and ending in an obvious punch line; Shaun of the Dead was wise to keep this gag to a brief aside. Stealing much of the movie’s attention for both good and ill is Zoey Deutch as the klutzy tag-along Madison. Her valley girl shtick is pretty tired and dated on paper, but somehow through charisma and sheer determination Deutch manages to take this clichéd valley girl character and make her absolutely hilarious. I can’t see her being a recurring character moving forward, but for this film she’s in it just enough to avoid becoming cloying.
Zombieland was always a comedy first with action and horror taking a back seat, but the spectacle here is certainly a step up from its predecessor; you can thank more experience and a bigger budget for that. There’s plenty of standard melee and gunplay combat on display, but set pieces like an impressive one-take fight through a Graceland hotel and the climatic duo on the walls of Babylon certainly take the cake. A lot of this can be credited to the vibrant cinematography, courtesy of Oldboy and It DP Chung-hoon Chung. The clever use of titles continues over from the first and is used even more for comedic effect, with reminders of Columbus’ rules often even showing up just in the background. Licensed music continues to be a key component of the film’s tone and humour, and kicking off the plot with a sequence set to “Master of Puppets” by Metallica is an absolutely brilliant note to start on.
Zombieland: Double Tap does struggle to recapture the magic of its forbearer, but neither does it sully its memory. It’s less a sequel and more a reunion tour, content to play the same hits for the most part, but when originality does strike it reminds you why people fell in love with the original. It may not be the long-awaited follow up many hoped for, but as a Friday night bit of fluff enjoyed amongst friends and alcohol it hits enough of the right notes. At least it is miles better than the failed TV pilot.
FINAL VERDICT: 7/10