Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, and Zoey Deutch
Cinematographer: Chung Chung-hoon
Whenever a film does well in terms of both critical reception and box office, studios consider that an all-around win. At times, it can even lead to a sequel and eventually a franchise if given enough buzz. So, it’s hard to believe how Zombieland: Double Tap wound up in developmental hell after the first was so universally loved. Nevertheless, Ruben Fleischer’s follow-up finally arrived in theaters on October 18, 2019, though a worthy sequel, perhaps it is not. Rather, Zombieland: Double Tap only regurgitates the best of its predecessor and reminds us why the first was so great.
It’s been 10 years since Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) escaped the “mad zombie disease” and embarked on a journey across the United States to find a zombie-free zone. What have they been up to for a decade? Who knows… and the film doesn’t seem to care either. Instead, we jump right into the zombie-slaying crew arriving at the White House and taking refuge in luxury. They have, however, learned that the walking dead have evolved. There are Homers- zombies dumb enough for anyone to outwit and kill. There are also the Ninjas. They’re quick on their feet and sly in their movement. Then, there are Hawkings- the smart zombies (because why not?). And finally, the most evolved of them all: the T-800s. They’re “stronger, faster and better adapted to the hunt.“
Despite these exciting additions to Zombieland: Double Tap, the film feels mediocre compared to the first. And it’s mostly because everything serves as a reminder to what was in Zombieland– kind of like a long recap episode. Sure, there are new character additions and new zombies, but they only serve as a means to reiterate what the first did so effectively. As a result, the film comes off quite derivative, even for sequel standards, and the recycled content isn’t as creative as it thinks it is.
Even one of the most standout scenes in the film involves introducing viewers to Tallahassee and Columbus look-alikes. Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch) are essentially the mirror images of our heroic team in (supposed) looks and personality. Perhaps that’s the selling point. But instead of feeling like a creative addition to the script that will generate genuine laughs, it feels more like a copycat reenactment due to running out of ideas.
When the film finally gets away from these derivative moments, which are few and far between, Zombieland: Double Tap attempts to dabble in sentiment. Aside from the typical rocky love boat between Columbus & Wichita, this mostly comes from Little Rock needing to get away from Tallahassee to breathe, and therefore escaping through the night leaving a mere note behind. Simultaneously, Tallahassee, taking on a somewhat father-figure role in Little Rock’s life, begins to miss her while she’s gone. Unfortunately, these moments don’t last very long as the crew sets out to chase after her to ensure she is safe from the zombies- things we’ve all seen before. So while I do appreciate the attempts at building the characters even further, it just seems like not much effort was put into it, coming off incredibly cheap and mundane.
Despite the film being uninspired overall, there are some positives to take away from this continued journey of avoiding flesh-eating zombies. For one, there’s Zoey Deutch who plays newcomer Madison. She is as infectious as the bites they’re trying to avoid, and taking your eyes off of her during this performance is simply not an option. Her on-screen presence is not only a standout in what could’ve been a disaster sequel, but it’s a treat. The other positive takeaways here, like with all zombie movies, are the kills. Stylistically speaking, this too is familiar to Zombieland, but it’s only welcomed. After all, a movie about zombies without seeing zombies being slaughtered… well that’s just wrong. So, we have that to be grateful for.
When it’s all said and done, Zombieland: Double Tap might be a sequel no one asked for, but it’s arrived anyway. More importantly, it reminds us how great of a gem its predecessor was in the long list of movies centered around zombies. And though it had a lot to live up to as far as quality is concerned, the final product contains some joyous sequences that were 10 years in the making. I just suspect this will be long forgotten when the next zombie apocalypse rolls around because it simply doesn’t hold a candle to the first.