James Clay//Film Critic
Hard to believe it’s been ten years since ZOMBIELAND hit theaters. A lot has changed since “nut up or shut up” became the catchphrase of the supremely popular one-off zom-com (which is a thing if you think about it long enough).
The belated sequel, ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP, doesn’t dwell on the past for too long; it relishes in the fact that the world has evolved. However, it still follows the same set of rules that made the original a breath of fresh air.
Director Ruben Fleischer returns to direct after gaining a bit of cache helming last year’s mega-hit VENOM. Zombie movies didn’t have the brand recognition as they do now when Fleischer cut his teeth, making his filmmaking debut. They no longer exist in solely a B-movie sub-genre space, especially with THE WALKING DEAD becoming a full-blown phenomenon (if it hasn’t already flamed out in popularity).
Even though zombie films are somewhat trite at this point (with rare exceptions such as the Korean film TRAIN TO BUSAN), DOUBLE TAP found a way to harness its tongue-in-cheek powers for good and create something innovative and a little bit nostalgic. Not to mention, the cast consisting actors including Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, and Abigail Breslin all have Oscar nominations (with Stone winning one). So naturally, they have all gained even more popularity.
The film seemingly takes place in real-time. It picks back up with the makeshift family of Columbus (Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Harrelson), Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin). They have been roaming the country, killing zombies for the last decade until finally setting their roots in our nation’s capital by taking over the abandoned White House.
Everything appears to be cozy as Columbus explains over the signature narration, which lays out the set of rules with text splattered across the screen: “Remember rule No. 1: Also stay fit on your cardio” and “Rule No. 45: Always wear your seatbelt.” The stylized vignettes are clever enough to lay down the lingo and laws of the land with some zippy humor that gets much funnier in the back half of the film.
Columbus and Wichita have been together this whole time and have hit a bumpy patch in their domestic life. Little Rock has become a woman in her own right and wants to break free from Tallahassee, who has assumed the role of her father figure. It’s not an ideal life, but it works until cabin fever sets in for Little Rock and Wichita. The story is off from there expanding the world with weaponless hippie communes, super zombies called T-800s (aka Terminators), and a woman who has been surviving in a mall frozen yogurt stand (Zoey Deutch).
The whole creative team – including screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who went on to make the two DEADPOOL movies – were able to make a sequel that shows how the world and their characters have evolved in a way that still feels organic to the decidedly silly tone of the film. There’s a delicate balance of over-the-top, zombie-killing humor and more subtle bits, ranging from mispronunciations of the alternative band Portishead or a nod to THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER.
DOUBLE TAP solely relies on the kinetic spark of its cast, who must have had a hand in picking their lines of dialogue (because doing a terrible sequel would have been a risky move creatively, but it just so happened that this time it works).
Deutch has been making a name in appearing in comedies like Netflix’s SET IT UP. She is a welcome addition to the cast, while veterans like Rosario Dawson and Luke Wilson mix it up in a few key scenes.
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP could have been a disaster, but it executes its continued journey with glass (no safety needed). It provides another example of a solid, mid-budget movie (like US, CRAWL, and HUSTLERS). The film’s finale brings the whole story to a climax that ditches the gun-toting action in favor of something that’s more satisfying than 1,000 zombie headshots. It’s a sequel that moves things forward without pandering towards its audience, even if it is a bit of a pointless trip. With that being said, let’s just bite the bullet and stop here.
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP opens nationwide on Friday.