It’s been an entire decade since the release of Zombieland, which was a disgusting, action-packed laugh riot that answered zombie comedies like Shawn of the Dead with a decidedly American brand of humor. Now we’re back for seconds—which the film makes a meta nod to within its first minute—and ready to find out how our found family of four misfits has weathered the apocalypse together.
[Minor spoilers for Zombieland Double Tap]
It’s been ten years, and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have fought their way into the White House because there’s no reason not to live it up in this undead timeline, so you might as well go big. But a decade of cohabitation is starting to wear on the quartet, and when Little Rock grows tired of Tallahassee’s overprotective parenting, and Columbus makes the mistake of springing a proposal on Wichita, the sisters up and leave in the middle of the night with only a poorly written note as a goodbye. Little Rock eventually leaves her sister to go off with a hippie boy named Berkeley (she’s been looking for more kids her own age), and Wichita asks the boys to help in tracking her down.
The opening of the film unfortunately drags, and it’s mostly due to the fact that the sisters’ reasons for leaving feel pretty dated and trite when we are given so little background on the buildup to their exit. Columbus making the mistake of proposing to Wichita feels particularly setup-ish, more a means to an end than a direction that makes sense. These particular issues are largely resolved by the end of the film, but a little cringey on the first half hour. The film gets more interesting as more characters are added to the fray, particularly in the form of the air-headed Madison (Zoey Deutch) and the always incredible Rosario Dawson, who will only introduce herself to Tallahassee as “Nevada”—because a city is too close. As the cast bulks up and the gang makes their way first to Graceland and then to the commune Babylon, we get a better look at the shape of the story that Double Tap is trying to tell. In effect, though, it’s the same story as before: What makes you a family?
For all that Double Tap is supposed to take place ten years after the first film (in relative realtime) it has an unstuck quality that sometimes reads as an intentional piece of the narrative and sometimes doesn’t. On the one hand, this makes sense—the past ten years of human history didn’t happen and people are relatively separate, which means that there are no new cultural touchstones that most people would be aware of, no events besides the zombie apocalypse that people are going to have in common. But even knowing that, it’s hard to believe that any time has passed since the last film. Aside from Breslin, who is now an adult, all the actors look almost exactly the same (that Hollywood money keeps people nearly pickled, it seems), and there’s no indication from any of them that a whole decade’s worth of time has passed.
It’s helpful at certain points because it’s not as though these characters have developed very much in their extensive hiatus. But it also means that the movie doesn’t ever bother wrestling with the longterm effects of living in Zombieland, which could have been fascinating even in a comedic context. Instead, the movie reads like an immediate sequel, with the only real difference being that Little Rock is genuinely a grown up (but the story would have read exactly the same if she were sixteen instead of her early twenties). It’s too bad because these two films have created a genuinely enjoyable world, and with a little extra structure, the audience could easily be drawn in a lot more.
The action is better than ever when it gets going, particularly one fight that goes down in a hotel as a single extended take (think Daredevil season three, but with more key combatants). It’s visceral, more creative than anything I’ve seen in a zombie film to date, and has the added fun of the participants all communicating as they go, an infectiously fun call-and-response game. The final fight, which takes place in the Babylon commune, is an all-out battle against a terrifying horde, and it’s perfectly staged with all the over-the-top bluster these films excel at. There’s a development in the zombie hierarchy in this film, as Columbus goes out of the way to classify types, and then introduce the audience to a new, faster, smarter, scarier zombie that they dub “the T-800”, but this is less of a big deal than it should be by the end of the movie. Zombieland isn’t really about taking itself seriously as a fictional universe, after all—this works, for the most part, except for the moments when you’re looking for cohesion.
There are a couple bits within the film that feel out of place or ill-considered in 2019, which might be inevitable for a film that is beholden to an aesthetic from a decade ago. For example, there’s a prolonged joke in the film about Tallahassee claiming Blackfoot Indian heritage, and while it’s clear that the film isn’t taking his claim seriously (because Columbus doesn’t), it’s important to question the impulse to make drawn-out jokes about white people claiming Indian heritage when there is no genuine Native American representation in the film. There’s also an odd gimmick where Double Tap mimics a gag done in Shawn of the Dead by showcasing a pair of doppelgänger survivors—in this case Albuquerque and Flagstaff, played by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch—which comes off as though the screenwriters felt that the joke in Shaun was underplayed and wanted to do the film one better. If this becomes a tradition of zombie comedies, that could be a fun twist, but as it was, the parallel was oddly direct.
No new ground is broken in Double Tap, but if you enjoyed the first Zombieland, you’re likely to enjoy your second helping. It’s still a welcome reprieve from the more dour undead stories on offer, and in our year 2019, anything that can make the end of the world seem less daunting is something to celebrate.
P.S. Stay for the mid-credits scene.
Emily Asher-Perrin would have also watched an entire movie about Little Rock getting to hang out with young people her own age, though. You can bug him on Twitter, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.