After a decade of waiting, the sequel to the now-classic and hilarious Zombieland (2009) has been released both theatrically and on home video. In watching the follow up, this writer realized that he should have included the original on his “Best Horror Films of the Past Ten Years” list. But the same certainly cannot be said for the series’ second installment. For the most part, Zombieland 2: Double Tap attempts to recapture the spirit of the first film. And while the follow-up does not completely succeed in this feat, fans of the original will find moments to enjoy.
Reuniting original core cast members Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus), Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee), Emma Stone (Wichita), and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock), the foursome has continued to survive the zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, their diverse personalities have become detrimental over time. After Little Rock splits away completely, the remaining trio embark on an undead road trip to make sure she is safe. Along the way, new and occasionally fun, characters join the ride.
In Zombieland 2, a major selling point is that the four remaining survivors from the original film are the focus of this sequel. And, for better or worse, things are not good for the group. At first, catching up with these comrades is uncomfortable for the viewer to watch. The dynamic seems forced as the young women are clearly unhappy. In addition, where Tallahassee appears with an abundance of unmotivated anger, Columbus keeps awkwardly kissing Wichita. There is either an issue with the script or performances, but either way the chemistry is missing. Fortunately, after the introduction of Madison (Zoey Deutch) Zombieland 2 finally starts to work.
The first fifteen minutes of the sequel are tough to get through; however, Deutch’s performance is hilarious and, at last, brings some joy to the flick. Unfortunately, she is a “love her or hate her” character. If you enjoy the tone she adds to the movie then the rest of the ride is enjoyable. If she is not your cup of tea, then Zombieland 2 is probably never going to come alive for you. Madison is a stereotypical “dumb blonde” role but Deutch finds a way to bring the character to life and adds a much-needed spark to Zombieland 2.
Other new additions to this universe include the incredibly talented Rosario Dawson as Nevada and Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as a doppelganger duo of Tallahassee and Columbus. Dawson’s Elvis-loving Nevada is a terrific counterpart to the lone wolf persona of Tallahassee. Wilson and Middleditch add a fun sequence in their juxtaposition to the two male leads. As Albuquerque and Flagstaff, respectively, the two mirror how Tallahassee and Columbus could survive a bit more harmoniously.
Where in the original the dynamic of the four main cast members was what really sold Zombieland, the sequel finds the core group relying a bit more on the supporting cast to make the film work. Obviously, the foursome is comprised of talented actors; however, something is just a little off when a new person is missing. For example, Harrelson plays Tallahassee with an unexplained hostility. In the first flick, his anger was motivated by the lacking Twinkie supply which was really indicative of a much more symbolic loss. The hostile impulse this time around is unclear. Yet, once the rivalry with Albuquerque begins Harrelson settles into the right balance of defensive competitiveness.
One can argue Tallahassee’s anger derives from his bewilderment as a father figure to Breslin’s Little Rock; however, Tallahassee’s behavior begins before she leaves. This seems to stem from a bigger issue surrounding script or direction. And, speaking of Breslin, she is given very little to do in Zombieland 2 other than to blindly follow Berkeley (Avan Jogia). That’s fine if the goal is to develop that she is a teen leaving the nest, but Little Rock becomes merely a reactionary figure to her supporting character counterpart. Little Rock is the returning main character, but it is Berkeley that comes away with the “funnier” moments in their scenes together.
Overall, Zombieland 2 does plenty right in comparison to many horror sequels. Still, there is an imbalance centered on fleshing out the supporting cast better than the returning characters. This follow-up does have funny moments; however, these moments do not belong to the main cast. Instead, they are given the action sequences. These scenes are exciting to watch and two of them really do stand out. Tallahassee has a thrilling moment in the climax, and the other involves a showdown between the doppelgangers. Unfortunately, the uneven sense of humor given to the primary cast does not balance out the thrilling action.
Two other minor complaints focus on a conflicting message and a missing song. First, Zombieland 2: Double Tap confusingly jokes about the “ridiculous” pacifists and then goes out of its way to show the most dangerous zombies of all can be defeated without guns. There appears to be no sense of irony on the part of the filmmakers in accomplishing this contradictory stance. Secondly, the song “Babylon” by David Gray is mentioned multiple times in the sequel and then is never used. I only noticed this because it is one of my favorite songs, and I completely expected its inclusion. Especially, considering the sanctuary is named after this song and lyrics such as “if you want it, come and get it” would be aptly utilized during the climactic battle sequence.
Special features included on the home release do make Zombieland 2: Double Tap more worthwhile. Multiple deleted scenes add to the missing character development. In particular, there is a sequence between Wichita and Columbus that expands upon their inevitable rediscovery of each other. When watching the released feature, I found this reunion not particularly believable. This deleted scene would have completely aided in their romance. Other excised sequences additionally improve character development and illustrate why this group actually likes being around each other. The theatrical release is often unclear in terms of understanding why they stay together; however, the dropped scenes certainly rectify this confusion.
Behind-the-scenes features and bloopers also add to the fun of Zombieland 2: Double Tap. Ultimately, the fun is actually in there in addition to some thrilling action sequences. This long-awaited sequel does not have the innovative quality of the original. And, unless you watch the deleted scenes, certain character arcs will seem forced and unclear. Nevertheless, Double Tap does provide laughs via added supporting cast members that are entertaining to watch. Perhaps, the charm of the original is lacking, but Zombieland fans will find that the spirit of the first film is not completely (un)dead in this follow-up feature.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Ruben Fleischer
Writer(s): Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick
Stars: Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Woody Harrelson, and Jesse Eisenberg
Release: Friday, October 18th
Studio/ Production Co: Columbia Pictures
Budget: $42 Million (Estimated)