To say the first Zombieland film was a pretty solid horror-comedy feels like an understatement, but that’s what it was. At the time of its release, it felt groundbreaking as hell. Sure, it wasn’t the first comedic horror film (or even the first comedic zombie film), but it was one of the first films of its ilk to be as scary as it was funny. Audiences hadn’t really seen such a well-executed horror/meta-comedy since the days of the first Scream film and it hit pop culture with a splash before fading into obscurity. A sequel has long been requested, with the writers and director all saying they were working on one but didn’t want to make it until they felt they’d cracked the story. Well, it’s a full ten years after the release of the first film, and I guess they’ve cracked the story as Zombieland: Double Tap releases in theaters today. The two questions on everyone’s mind are: “is it good?” and “how does it compare to the first film?” Unfortunately, the answers to those questions aren’t too positive. (This review will be as spoiler-free as possible, but any elements that have been shown in trailers may be discussed.)
Zombieland: Double Tap (written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Dave Callaham; directed by Ruben Fleischer)
A decade after Zombieland became a hit film and a cult classic, the lead cast (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone) have reunited with director Ruben Fleischer (Venom) and the original writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Deadpool) for Zombieland: Double Tap. In the sequel, written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham, through comic mayhem that stretches from the White House and through the heartland, these four slayers must face off against the many new kinds of zombies that have evolved since the first movie, as well as some new human survivors. But most of all, they have to face the growing pains of their own snarky, makeshift family.
So, it’s not that Zombieland: Double Tap is a bad movie. It’s just that it’s nearly identically the same as the first movie. Sure, the plot is technically different – this time, it’s ten years later and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) is all grown up and ready to leave the nest while Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Wichita (Emma Stone) are experiencing some growing pains with their relationship. But, otherwise, the characters are pretty much exactly the same as you remember them – Tallahassee still needs to allow himself to open up to the idea of a family (as does Wichita, for that matter), Columbus needs to learn how to be a little less intense and controlling, and Little Rock needs to grow up. These are basically the same character arcs from the first movie, except for Little Rock’s. It’s just a shame that Little Rock is in this movie so infrequently as she’s the character who emerges as the most interesting out of the four core ones. She’s the one most impacted by the in-universe time jump – everyone else feels exactly the same as they did at the end of the first film – so, she’s the character you’re most interested in following. But the film focuses more on Tallahassee, Columbus, and Wichita’s quest to find her than on her quest to find her own identity. From there, the plot is as unfocused and meandering as the first film’s plot. While that plot worked fairly well for the first film, it doesn’t work as well here. The meandering nature of the first film gave us time to develop the core characters; here, very little development is done outside of what we’ve already seen, so it ends up being just a series of disconnected micro-adventures as the team tracks down Little Rock.
So, instead of following Little Rock’s arc and having an interesting story about what it’s like to grow up in a zombie apocalypse, we get basically the same adventure as the first film as our core characters go off in search of one of the Wichita/Little Rock sisters. And along with that retread of the first film’s plot, we get a lot of retread on the jokes. Perhaps I just don’t remember a lot of the humor from the first film – it has been the better part of a decade since I’ve seen it – but, man, I don’t remember the jokes being so rough. Maybe it’s just that in 2009, this humor was fairly new and interesting and now, in a post-Deadpool world, it seems like everyone’s hopped on the meta-humor train, so it no longer maintains the same charm that it once did and since the writers haven’t added anything new to their joke formula, it all just feels a bit old and dated. The rules that were once charming now feel overbearing, especially as they continue to mainly repeat the same rules – with a few new ones tossed in, I guess. Eisenberg’s narration feels even more stifled here than it did in the first film; it’s as if Eisenberg himself realized halfway through recording the lines how hokey it was and just stopped caring. Perhaps the whole premise of this series is less interesting in a post-Deadpool world.
With a repetitive plot and jokes that aren’t interesting, is there anything to like about Zombieland: Double Tap? Sure. The returning cast are all still good, even if they’re not really given anything interesting to do. There is something nice about seeing all of these characters back together again and bouncing off of one another the way they used to. The new characters introduced in this film, however, are a decidedly more mixed bag. The best of them is Rosario Dawson’s Nevada. She adds an interesting dynamic to the group and proves to be a good foil for Harrelson’s Tallahassee. It’s just too bad she’s in the movie for roughly ten minutes; those ten minutes she is in, though, are probably the best ten of the film. Next is Zoey Deutch’s Madison. Deutch clearly does her best with the role, but the character is written to be so annoying that it’s really hard to enjoy her at all. Again, mercifully, she’s in maybe 1/3 of the film. Lastly, there’s Avan Jogie’s Berkeley, Luke Wilson’s Albuquerque, and Thomas Middleditch’s Flagstaff – all three of whom aren’t in the film long enough to have much of an impact other than being slightly annoying distractions. These new additions only prove that the first film really only worked because of the lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry of the original cast. Thankfully, that chemistry does survive fairly intact but it proves not quite enough to keep this film afloat.
All in all, Zombieland: Double Tap is fine. It’s not egregiously bad, or anything. It’s not poorly-constructed, nor is the story awful. It’s just sort of more of the same. Most of the plot beats are the same, most of the character arcs are the same. It all just feels a bit repetitive. None of it’s bad, nor is it boring or unenjoyable to watch, but it absolutely doesn’t leave the same impact that the first film left. On the bright side, the directing is fairly decent, if similarly uninventive; the performances from all of the actors – including the new ones – are fairly strong, even if they’re not given anything new to do; there’s a pretty stellar mid-credits scene that is easily better than anything that comes before it and definitely lets the movie go out on its strongest note; and, ultimately, it is still nice to revisit this world and these characters. I doubt anybody who’s actually interested in seeing this film will dislike it, but I do suspect they’ll be less impressed with it than they were with the first film. If you’ve seen the first film, there’s little here that will be new to you. And maybe that’s okay. But, for me, I didn’t just want to see the original film again. I wanted to see a truly new adventure with these characters, an evolution of their lives and of the world, and something that came close to the madcap fun of the first one. Instead, we just got a repainting of that first film. And that’s fine. The first film was good. And this one isn’t bad. If I saw this on TV, I wouldn’t turn it off but I can’t say it’s worth paying full price for a movie ticket. Just rewatch your copy of the first movie and wait until this hits streaming.
3 out of 5 wands.