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Looking back, it’s easy to see why Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland was such a big hit. It’s not an overly complex setup from a plot perspective, delivering a road trip through the zombie apocalypse, and the movie features a truly wonderful group of characters to follow, played by an ensemble of four incredibly talented actors: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. The material is bolstered by the impressive wit and cleverness of screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and what culminates from those ingredients is a really funny, fun adventure that pulls off some real surprises, and even a few scares.
All this in mind, the big question that has surrounded Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland: Double Tap in recent months has been whether or not the magic could be recreated. The production was given all of the same ingredients, with not only Fleischer returning, but also Reese and Wernick and the entire core cast, but that alone did not guarantee that the film would come together successfully like its predecessor.
That’s a lot of pressure for a sequel, especially one being released 10 years later, but it’s a high bar that the movie is able to reach. It turns out that it’s really just immensely enjoyable to hang out with these characters at the end of the world, and with the story throwing a handful of excellent new elements at our heroes – both human and zombie alike – once again audiences get an entertaining, laugh-out-loud ride.
Following reality’s timeline, Zombieland: Double Tap picks up with its main characters 10 years after the rise of the flesh-eating undead, and they have basically settled into a routine. They’ve taken up residence at the White House, and their group dynamics haven’t much changed. The timorous, “rules”-obsessed Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has maintained a romantic relationship with Wichita (Emma Stone), though he is ready to commit, while she still remains terrified at the prospect of getting too close to anyone. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), meanwhile, is still the same brash, catch phrase-spouting redneck, though he has also taken Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) under his wing like a daughter – something that the young woman bridles against as she is reaching leave-the-nest age.
With tensions rising in the group, the two sisters pull off a familiar move and split in the middle of the night… but things don’t go exactly as planned. A few days after leaving, Wichita returns to the White House with news that Little Rock left her in the lurch as well, sneaking away with an acoustic guitar-playing pacifist named Berkeley (Avan Jogia).
The trio once again hits the road so that they can try and find Little Rock – but this time they are joined by a fresh face in Madison (Zoey Deutch), an energetic ditz who has survived the rise of zombies by living in a freezer at the mall.
The greatest strength that Zombieland: Double Tap possesses is the fact that the character voices feel impressively familiar, lending the movie a feeling of reuniting with old friends. A lot has changed for the core cast in the last 10 years, with the group together earning six Academy Award nominations and one victory, plus Abigail Breslin becoming an actual adult, but their return to these particular personalities and energies feels effortless. They’ve matured and have a level of comfortability together to the extent that it doesn’t all feel like material we’ve seen before, but these are also definitely still the individuals we fell for back in 2009.
Further helping balance the scales in that particular arena is the excellent injection of new that Zombieland: Double Tap gets from its fresh faces. While you might think that a “dumb blonde” character in 2019 might be too much of a trope to work, you’re actually dead wrong, as Zoey Deutch is an impressive scene-stealer who generates some of the biggest laughs of the movie, both with fantastic comedic timing, and some great physicality.
And while their roles aren’t quite as big, similar sentiments can be shared about the roles played by Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, and Thomas Middleditch. Set up as a foil for Tallahassee, Dawson’s Nevada is a wonderful, Elvis-loving, tough-as-nails ass-kicker, while Wilson and Middleditch make for an excellent mirror duo for Eisenberg and Harrelson – the differences between them being that Middleditch’s Flagstaff has survived Zombieland with a set of commandments instead of rules; and Wilson’s Albuquerque isn’t totally emotionally stunted and able to compliment his partner when he does a good job.
The sequel is even able to get a bit novel with its worldbuilding, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to check back in with a zombie apocalypse 10 years after it started. Not only is there the interesting idea explored that none of the events from the last decade in our own timeline played out in the fictional universe, but there is even a smart advancement in the way in which the characters deal with the monstrous cannibals that have taken over the Earth. After years of slaying, they’ve discovered that the population of the walking dead basically breaks down into two categories: the dimwitted “Homers,” and the surprisingly-clever “Hawkings.”
Not only does this have a cool effect on the way Zombieland: Double Tap approaches its attack scenes, with the characters creating strategies based on the demographics of the hordes they are facing, but it also provides a smart opportunity for raised stakes. The heroes have gotten so comfortable killing the two kinds of undead that they are almost bored, but then they get wind of a new kind of evolved zombie (“T-800s,” named after The Terminator) that are stronger and faster than anything Columbus, Wichita, Tallahassee, and Little Rock have ever seen.
The film isn’t exactly a game-changer, as while it doesn’t fall into the devastating sequel trap of repeating all the same gags from the original, it does have a very familiar structure. But this isn’t a movie that needed to break the mold to succeed. Zombieland: Double Tap is a solid addition to the big screen zom-com legacy, and a funny, freaky 10 year reunion.