Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenwriter: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, David Callaham
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch
Around halfway through Zombieland: Double Tap, Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus says “I don’t want to toot my own horn”. It’s in reference to his ‘rules’ for surviving Zombieland – a quirk that helped the first film feel so unique, but that is about to be replayed to death so violently in this belated sequel that clearly horn-tooting was exactly what the filmmakers intended.
2009’s Zombieland was a hidden gem; an unexpected wonder. It came before the massive surge in zombie-related content after the launch of The Walking Dead, and featured two rising stars before the mainstream film-going audience really knew who they were – Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone. It was a small, tightly directed story with a refreshingly witty script, gloriously tongue-in-cheek violence and heaps of charm.
As we reacquaint ourselves with what was an unlikely but extremely likeable family, a decade has passed. Unfortunately, the only evidence of this that we can see is that Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) is now a slightly surly twenty-something, and the marketers of the movie get to put a reference to the Academy Awards in front of everyone’s name in the promo. When it comes to jokes, narrative devices and character catchphrases, Zombieland: Double Tap hasn’t aged a day.
A sequel like this was always going to be one for the fans; for those who discovered this quirky little zombie movie before zombies were the in-thing, and who have integrated checking the back seat for the undead into their own daily rituals as a result. But even the biggest Zombieland stans will be infuriated at how unrelentingly this film takes what made the first one so charming, and bleeds it dry. Every single punchline, plot twist, character beat and really anything memorable at all from the original is repeated here, but it becomes less like an enjoyable Easter egg hunt and more like utter confusion as to why this film was ever even made. The only likely explanation seems to be to get the gang back together and have some fun making it, but this refusal to explore anything new with the sequel results in zero fun when watching it.
When we first met Wichita (Emma Stone) and Columbus, The Social Network was a year away, and Stone’s genius had only been glimpsed in Superbad – her star-making turns in Easy A, Crazy Stupid Love and La La Land hadn’t happened yet. Harrelson and Breslin, too, have come so far in the past ten years, and watching them all thrust back into Fleischer’s post-apocalyptic landscape, you can practically see the film heaving under the weight of their fame.
There’s an impressive extended cast, including Rosario Dawson and Luke Wilson, but all are vastly underused and feel largely unnecessary. The most upsetting addition is that of Madison, played by Zoey Deutch. Decked out in pink velour tracksuits and too unintelligent to grasp sarcasm, she’s a grossly misogynistic example of the ‘blonde bimbo’ trope that would have felt outdated back in 2009, and seems downright lazy and offensive now. Do the filmmakers hate women? Do they think that womanhood can only be Madison’s version of feminine stupidity, or Wichita’s cold and distant ‘one of the boys’ vibe? Jokes at Madison’s expense make up 95% of Zombieland: Double Tap’s attempts at humour and they all fall flat.
It’s a shame, because the first few minutes were full of promise. A decade in, how were these characters finding living together? What impact would it have that Little Rock is desperate for company her own age? How do Wichita and Columbus keep their relationship interesting when it seems they’re forced to be together by way of having no other options? Zombieland: Double Tap was never going to be a deep dive into the trauma of living through the apocalypse, but could have kept the very human and heartwarming core of the first film and explored these themes through that lens, rather than the 100 minutes of self-congratulatory patting on the back we’re presented with.
It’s not often a sequel will make you actively like the first film less, no matter how big the dip in quality. Sadly, Zombieland: Double Tap is one of them. If you do give it a try, make sure to stick around for the post-credit sequence – it’s the closest you’ll get to an audible chuckle. As for the actual movie? Save your money and your time, and preserve the memory of your first trip to Zombieland with a rewatch of that instead.
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