Somehow, the long-talked about sequel to Zombieland finally got made. After sitting in development hell for several years, Ruben Fleischer and the rest of the cast have returned for Zombieland: Double Tap, and while the original hasn’t aged particularly well since 2009, it is unlikely that its fans will have much to complain about with the zombie comedy’s return. Bringing in new characters, more world-building, and a cast that really seems to like acting in these movies, Zombieland: Double Tap will please for how much it maintains the status quo and only slightly tries to be something more — but carries far less of an impact as a result.
Zombieland: Double Tap immediately establishes that it won’t be wildly different than the original; in its opening moments, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) lets the audience know just how Zombieland has evolved since 2009. The group of Columbus, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are still together, and now that they have had more time with zombies, they’ve been able to identify different types, such as Hawkings (smart zombies) and Homers (big, dumb zombies). However, Little Rock has become overburdened by Tallahassee, who has taken on a more fatherly role to her despite Little Rock now being much older. Wichita and Columbus have been together since 2009, leaving Columbus ready to make a larger commitment to her.
The heavy use of narration in the opening moments establishes the zombie types in lieu of Columbus’s infamous rules from the original (which get even more screen-time in this film), but also creates an eerie feeling like we’ve seen this movie before. In fact, right after that narration comes a montage of zombie kills set to a Metallica song (however, instead of the original’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” we now get “Master of Puppets”) as credits pop onto the screen. The same way rules such as “Cardio” and “Pack Light” were displayed heavily stylized typography, here there are even more frequent flourishes. If that’s not enough, Zombieland: Double Tap references almost any obscure moment or line from the original from as large as the “Zombie Kill of the Week” being expanded into “Zombie Kill of the Year,” to minute details like Columbus drinking Code Red Mountain Dew. There are no surprises in this sequel — instead, just an evolution of the world presented in 2009. The amount of times Zombieland: Double Tap feels indebted to its origins is also a reminder that a lot of the humor from 2009 simply doesn’t play as well in 2019. The film is even meta about that, calling out Tallahassee’s “Nut up or shut up” catchphrase as dated.
The surprising thing is that Double Tap even lightly explores the concept of complacency and domesticity in the confines of a world overrun by zombies. This is made all the more apparent by each character’s realization that they may have actually found some semblance of home, even if it’s not exactly a nuclear family living in the suburbs. This is where the cast seems admirably happy about making this film. The rapport between everyone is fun, with actors like Eisenberg and Stone (who have really built careers since 2009) proving that even in the original they were demonstrating a great sense of comedic timing, and are able to carry films on their backs. Harrelson fits so nicely into the boots of Tallahassee that it’s almost a sin that he doesn’t get to play the character on a more regular basis outside of the franchise; his relationship with Breslin’s character pops with a comical exuberance because the two can do these roles in their sleep.
However, the true standout of Zombieland: Double Tap is Zoey Deutch’s performance as the ditzy Madison. What could easily have just been a one-note comedic performance expands into a more nuanced approach to a character like Madison walking into an established dynamic, and how it throws everything off balance. She’s having a blast in the role, especially with some of the turns her character takes, but it’s all in the service of confronting that family dynamic that stays at the forefront. Each character who appears seems to be prodding at this foursome, trying to flesh out their interactions through confrontation.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a zombie comedy without action — one of the more obvious tactics Fleischer employs to have that family dynamic interrupted. Whether it’s showing how well they work together against a zombie horde, or how they hold their own against fellow survivors, Zombieland: Double Tap perks up when it wants to blast some zombie brains. The gore isn’t particularly grand compared to the original, but the way the action is shot is a ton of fun. One very long take showcases cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon’s knack for kinetic energy, bobbing and weaving through a confined space and alternating between tracking shots through the carnage. It’s surprisingly more energetic and spry-feeling than the original.
Nevertheless, it is rather disappointing that Zombieland: Double Tap doesn’t quite update its formula very much; it still feels like an episodic series stitched together into a 93-minute runtime. For many, this will serve as comfort food (myself included), with a little kick to it so that it doesn’t feel too much like a retread of the original. It felt good coming back into the world with these characters, but it just further begs to be a series (which was attempted and failed to get picked up). The disappointing fact is that nothing in the sequel is structured differently than the original, and the ways in which it explores any substantial developments with the characters is only lightly touched upon. It’s a sequel that doesn’t deliver any real impact to being a sequel. In actuality, Zombieland: Double Tap is just that: a second, final shot to the head that proves why no one should attempt a Zombieland film again.