Film Editor Matt Taylor finds out why it’s always a good idea to go back for seconds
It isn’t often that belated movie sequels actually work. A handful might (Blade Runner 2049, Mad Max: Fury Road and the third and fourth Toy Story films spring to mind here), but many are either downright awful or mediocre enough to fade into obscurity. Thankfully for all involved, Zombieland: Double Tap, which comes to audiences a whole decade after the first film, is not one of those sequels. While it hardly improves upon the original (and it was admittedly never going to), Double Tap is almost exactly what fans have wanted from a sequel, doubling down on the humour and the gore, and playing to the strengths of the first film.
We pick things up 10 years after the events of the first film, as the dysfunctional family of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock (with Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, respectively, all reprising their roles from the first film) decide to live in style, and make a break for the White House. All is well until Little Rock makes off with an unknown boy (series newcomer Avan Jogia) and the rest of the gang must go after her before she gets in over her head.
At Double Tap’s heart, as was the case with the first film, is family. How we interpret that idea, and where we choose to find it, is up to us – that is the idea at the very centre of the film, and it carries it along fantastically. Columbus and Wichita have their own relationship issues to deal with, while Tallahassee has to grapple with the reality that, although he sees Little Rock as his daughter, she does not feel the same way about him. Throw in a love interest for Tallahassee (the ever-fantastic Rosario Dawson) and a spanner in the works for Columbus and Wichita in the shape of Zoey Deutch’s ‘dumb blonde’ Madison, and you end up with a movie that is, in essence, a family drama – just one that happens to take place in a zombie apocalypse. As with the first, Double Tap’s strength is in its humanity. Thanks to some great dialogue by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (returning to screenwriting duties from the first film) and solid performances from all involved, the slower scenes are just as, if not more, captivating than the film’s high-speed action scenes.
A good deal of that is due to the film’s perfect cast. Since the first film was released in 2009, all four leads have gone on to become huge stars in their own right – something that made getting everyone together for a sequel extremely challenging. Nevertheless, fans can be glad they came back; each is perfectly suited to their character, yet again, and each character is given an obstacle to traverse. Eisenberg gives his best turn in a good few years as Columbus, whose relationship with Wichita turns messy around 15 minutes in. Columbus is just as practical as he was first time around, but has also learned to let his hair down a little – to consequences both good and bad. Tallahassee really takes to being a father figure to Little Rock (something made all the more poetic when we remember the loss of his young son in the first film), and brings some big laughs while doing so. Harrelson is clearly having a great time, and his enthusiasm is utterly infectious. Wichita’s arc is somewhat a retread of what happened to her in the first film, but is still entertaining enough. Stone doubles down on the sarcasm and dry humour she brings to the character in a way that makes her even more endearing. Breslin is sadly left a little on the sidelines; an unfortunate side effect of Little Rock running away is that we don’t spend anywhere near as much time with her as we do with the other three, but her various scenes with them (in particular those with Wichita and Tallahassee) go some way to making up for this.
Any good sequel should expand in some way, and Double Tap does this in two ways. The first of these is to add in some new characters, to mixed results, and the second is to evolve the zombies, resulting in so-called ‘T-800s’ that prove to be much harder to kill. The standout of the new characters is easily Rosario Dawson’s Nevada. Confident and flirtatious, she is more than a match for Tallahassee, and Dawson herself is clearly having a ball. While she admittedly doesn’t have a lot to do, she still manages to make her character memorable – a testament to just how good of an actress Dawson is. Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch make fun little appearances as a duo who mirror Columbus and Tallahassee in every possible way, leading to the film’s highlight action sequence. Sadly, not all the new additions are great: Avan Jogia gets remarkably little to do as Berkeley, to such an extent that it’s unclear how Little Rock is attracted to him. His only characteristics seem to be that he is a mediocre musician and he carries a lot of weed. The most mixed of this mixed bag, however, is Zoey Deutch’s Madison. I’m still struggling to believe that in 2019, people are still buying into the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype – didn’t this stop being funny a good few years ago? Deutch gives the character what she can, and at first she’s an amusing new presence, but that novelty quickly wears off once we realise Madison has nothing else to bring to the table. It says a lot about her character that the most interesting thing she does is pave the way for relationship drama between Columbus and Wichita. Other than that, she offers very little. In fairness, Madison is written to be deliberately annoying, as Tallahassee and Wichita both keep pointing out, but it feels as though Reese and Wernick have missed the sweet spot where the comedy lies in this.
Luckily, Double Tap has plenty to distract you from the hit-and-miss characters – namely, a lot of blood and guts. Ruben Fleischer returns to direct and makes a solid impact, injecting the film with the same energy he brought to the first. Though at times he feels a tad self-indulgent (the film’s opening credits spring to mind here), he nonetheless directs with a steady hand, always knowing when to speed things up and slow things down – particularly in the film’s action sequences. As with the first film, Fleischer smartly spreads them out here, but always delivers. When the action arrives, it is brutal, energetic and fun above all, and always full of great character moments – something that comes to the fore in the film’s climax (though the highlight is undoubtedly a stunning and hyper-stylised long take around the halfway mark). Oddly enough, we don’t quite realise how much we love these characters until we’re in very real danger of losing them. Scenes such as this are more moving than they have any right to be, and serve to further ground the film in the idea of family that drives it.
That’s something that could be applied to Double Tap as a whole; despite its various shortcomings, including some less-than-stellar new characters and a handful of running gags that don’t land all that well, we don’t really mind. Everything always comes back to family, and in an extremely enjoyable manner. In this sense, after such a long gap between the two films, Double Tap is better than it has any right to be, and it can absolutely join the Belated Sequel Hall of Fame.
In spite of a few script issues and some undeniably annoying characters, Zombieland: Double Tap does more than enough to justify its existence. Funny, entertaining as hell, and genuinely moving, fans of the original can be glad that Rule #2 has been adhered to: always go back for seconds.
Zombieland: Double Tap is in cinemas now
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures. All rights reserved.