A few nights ago I was thrilled to sit down and watch a film which comes ten years later as a sequel to one of my all time favorite movies. That film was the unexpected, but much appreciated Zombieland: Double Tap.
The original Zombieland was a surprise hit comedy, poking fun at both the early 2000s and the zombie genre in general. It had a cast of actors who were all up and coming (with the exception of Harrelson, as well as one enormously funny cameo) and has become a small cult classic in the zombie genre. Making over four times its budget it should well be considered a hit, and I still find it an uproariously funny movie to this day. It even spawned a short lived pilot for a television series in 2013 which sadly didn't get off the ground. Though, with the saturation of popular media with shows like Z Nation and The Walking Dead, maybe that isn't a bad thing.
The film is a surprise return to the big screen by some big name actors to a relatively niche production! Jessie Eisenburg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin all come back to pick up their roles as Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock respectively. It shouldn't need to be said that each of these actors has gone on to bigger and better things, that they would be willing to come back to such a strange film is perhaps a testament to how much they enjoyed the original.
Picking up ten years later, we follow our survivors as they traverse the zombie infested ruins of what was once America. We find that the zombies have evolved, the dopey and relatively unintelligent "Homers", the predatory and learning "Hawkings" who can find efficient ways to kill their prey and the "Ninjas" who are silent but deadly hunters. Setting up shop in the Oval Office, the foursome decide that they've found a place to hole up and lay low for a while. However, the strain of years begins to take its toll, Columbus and Wichita's relationship is fraying and the overbearing Tallahassee is starting to rub the all grown up Little Rock the wrong way. Finally having enough, Little Rock and Wichita run off, leaving the two men to each other's dubious company.
Soon though, the come across another survivor, the bubbly, blonde, pink (and somehow not terminally dumb) Madison (Zoey Deutch). Joining the gang, they set out to find the wayward girls, which is made more difficult by more evolved and vicious zombies. Across the wasteland again they drive, also looking for a new home and a clue maybe at the community called Babylon.
From there the film does deliver on some fun action scenes, great gore and hilarious comedy. The actors still have it and their chemistry is well put together. They feel like a family and good friends at least. The new additions to the film crank up the comedy in a lot of unexpected ways, and do a good job at engaging and subverting out expectations. Whether it is Nevada (Rosario Dawson) or Berkeley (Avan Jogia) you'll be pleasantly surprised by the characters who turn up.
Is it as good as the original though? Some minor spoilers below if you haven't seen either film!
I would argue no. That isn't to say that the film is bad, but some of the charm has worn off in the last ten years, and the jokes sometimes feel as stale as the walking corpses from the film.
That being said, there are a lot of funny scenes. Whether it is the banter between characters, the shoutouts to original jokes and the progress of characters relationships you get some good laughs and nice 'awww' moments. Tallahassee is just as over the top and outrageous as he was in the original, and his blunt almost insincerity is great to watch. Columbus is less nervous, but still delightfully awkward, and Wichita is still protective of her sister while also being something of a mean aunt towards Tallahassee's father figure. Little Rock is all grown up, and in the picture of rebellious youth drives the story with her desire to branch out from her parental figures.
Seeing "The Rules" which were such a fun gag in the original movie followed up on is still fun, if slightly overused. As an occasional gag, their briefness and callback value in the first film was quite good. This film though, leaned on them a touch too heavily at times and threatened to bring the edifice crashing down.
The new characters like Madison and Reno do add some hilarity to the film by virtue of their fresh personalities and new perspectives. One particularly amusing scene mirrors the two male leads and leads to a really well done action scene.
However, there are far too many shout outs to the original film. Callbacks to the original were well done on occasion, but often times it got hung up on reviving jokes from a decade ago, rather than adding much fresh humor, or anything new in the zombie genre which we haven't seen often before. Some jokes were tone deaf, and without the good scenes devoted to characterization from the first film they didn't run well. Even a few character traits which defined the characters from the previous installment get left by the wayside which would have been stronger to lean on than the ones used in this sequel. Tallahassee and his kid, the loss of parents for everyone, and even Columbus's other minor phobias would have made for some good characterization and story telling.
With a larger cast it can sometimes seem like a crowded movie. Though I don't want anyone to think this was somehow to its detriment, it still worked quite well in my opinion, and expanded on the jokes which could be made. Even Bill Murray made a comeback in a post credits scene which was just amazingly fun.
The finale too felt weaker than the original. Though they led up to it well, I felt that the film did limit itself somewhat in how they played it out. In what could have been a moment of fun carnage, then a last desperate gamble, they instead opted for a more subdued finale. I still enjoyed it, but it certainly didn't replicate my amused - but concerned - breathless enjoyment of the first film which I have done more than once now. The score didn't feel as strong throughout, and I just felt underwhelmed in comparison to the original.
On its own, the film is a fun romp which I will definitely see again. However, unlike the first, it probably won't be going on my top ten list! I would still encourage you to see it this Halloween however!