Film Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: Zombieland 2: Double Tap

Have you ever heard of Dead Snow? It’s a Norwegian comedy about students fending off Nazi zombies. For a good couple of months back in 2009, it made some big waves on the film festival circuit and earned the reputation as “the most fun zombie movie of the decade.” That was saying a lot considering Shaun of the Dead was part of that same decade. Still, Dead Snow clearly had its fans.

Everyone forgot about it, however, when Zombieland came out later that year and turned into the highest-grossing zombie movie of all time to that point. Considering the film’s irreverent wit, clear eye for genre deconstruction, the incredible cast (Woody Harrelson, then up-and-comers Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg, and Little Miss Sunshine graduateAbigail Breslin), and a celebrity cameo which instantly entered the conversation for greatest movie cameo ever, it’s not hard to see why Zombieland trampled the competition. It’s a true classic of the zom-com genre. Dead Snow is worth seeing, but it was always destined for cult status. Zombieland is the mainstream Hollywood movie that made a lot of money and enjoyed a long life on cable. It’s the one people have a better chance of remembering.

Except it’s a decade later and we’re only just now getting Zombieland 2. Heck, Dead Snow got its own sequel in 2014, right around the time Emma Stone was playing Gwen Stacy, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg were reteaming in Now You See Me, and Abigail Breslin was moving into an image-altering role in Scream Queens. Also, a little series called The Walking Dead was exploding on TV signaling an entirely new era for the zombie genre.

In the five years since Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, Stone won an Oscar, Eisenberg played Lex Luthor (regrettably), and Zombieland’s creative team – screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and director Ruben Fleischer – hit big with their own respective comic book franchises, Deadpool and Venom. From a distance, you would guess they must have used all of their newfound clout to finally make Zombieland 2 happen. Fleischer says it’s not really that simple. This is not a project Sony threw his way as a thank you for Venom. Instead, it’s something they developed for five years – adding screenwriter David Callaham to the team in the process. Sony gave them the greenlight before Fleischer had even started filming Venom.

Ultimately, doesn’t matter how it got made – it’s here now.

Now that that film is here, the question is why – why did this sequel need to exist? What story was left to tell in this universe? Did they actually have anything left to say about the zombie movie?

Um, the answer to that last part is no. Despite some handwaving about a newer, deadlier breed of zombie nicknamed the T-800 – after the Terminator – this is not a movie that has anything more to say about the zombie genre that wasn’t already covered the first time around. Zombieland 2, actually, doesn’t have much to say about anything. We’re not really in George Romero zombie allegory territory here.

That doesn’t mean you can’t project something bigger onto it or read deep between the lines – the first film is a Tea Party era satire, the sequel updates it to liberals vs. conservatives. But, really, if you’re looking that hard at Zombieland 2 you’re probably watching it wrong. This movie is an excuse to spend another 93 minutes with these characters and bask in what is clearly a victory lap for a cast and crew which has earned the right at this point to make a wonky little movie.

Personally, that’s all I needed from Zombieland 2: Double Tap. Seeing a supremely annoyed Wood Harrelson tell Jesse Eisenberg “that’s just it, zombies eat brains, and that girl over there ain’t got any” in reference to an airhead blonde played by Zoey Deutch is all I really want out of Zombieland 2. On that sliding scale of popcorn fun, this zom-com sequel certainly delivers.

What’s It About?

If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know the plot: Wichita (Stone), Tallahassee (Harrelson), Little Rock (Breslin), and Columbus (Eisenberg) are still together, forever in search of their own forever home. For a while, they find that in the White House, but after Columbus proposes to a commitment-phobic Wichita and Tallahassee’s overpowering father act gets on Little Rock’s last nerve the girls split. However, within a month Little Rock meets a cute boy and runs off with him, leaving Wichita to turn back to the boys to ask for help in tracking down her little sister. How is she going to react when she learns that Columbus has already moved on from her with a cute, but aggressively stupid blonde (Zoey Deutch) he met in the mall?

Basically, it’s a road movie about a family tracking down a wayward daughter. Along the way, they briefly hang out with some new friends (Luke Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Thomas Middleditch) and occasionally stop long enough to kill some zombies.

Why I Watched It

Out of fandom for the first film as well as the sheer curiosity of seeing if they could come close to recapturing the magic 10 years later.

Did I Like It?

I learned something about myself with Zombieland 2, and it is this: I have a pretty high tolerance for “dumb blonde” jokes. Maybe that’s because I grew up in the Midwest with uncles who always started sentences with, “Did you hear the one about the blonde who walked into…[insert joke set-up]?” Or maybe it’s my latent Legally Blonde fandom. (A bad example, I know, since the dumb blonde jokes there eventually disappear in favor of empowering messaging.) Either way, Zombieland 2 contains within it such an extreme series of dumb blonde jokes that I would have thought I would argue it was too much, too regressive, too 2009.

Yes, she is holding the binoculars upside down.

Again, if you’ve seen the trailer you probably kind of already know this, but Zoey Deutch is going so big with her version of an airhead who seems to have worshipped at the altar of Paris Hilton that it either makes or breaks the movie for you. Because for as much as Zombieland 2 tries to be a “let’s hang out with these fun people again” kind of sequel, whenever Deutch is around she completely pulls focus. If she’s on-screen, she’s the unpredictable wild card around whom all action and dialogue gravitates. Every one of Wichita’s sarcastic remarks just slides right off of her, though, and Tallahasse’s transparent annoyance is interpreted as “you’re a funny old man.” (Columbus seems to genuinely like her, but in the way you might a rather dull child.)

It is so broad I convinced myself the film was building to some kind of reveal that it’s all just an act. The zombie plot – if it can be said there really is one of those in Zombieland 2 – involves a new line of undead which have adapted to the hunt to survive. I thought maybe Deutch’s Madison would be like those zombies – just adapting to survive, and her way of adapting was to act dumb and defenseless to play into damsel in distress dynamics before turning on the gullible guys, perhaps robbing them blind.

Spoiler, that never happens. From beginning to end, she’s roughly the same person. The only twist is that despite her ditsy demeanor she’s smart enough to remember every one of Columbus’ 72 rules for Zombieland, and although the rest of the group usually ignores everything she says she does have the occasional helpful suggestion and is ultimately a good person.

Perhaps the fact that there ultimately isn’t much more to her than meets the eye is emblematic of the film as a whole. For some, that’s damning; for others, surface-level fun and the occasional good laugh is all that should be expected of Zombieland 2.

I fall into the latter. I was more than happy to revisit these characters, watch their relationships unfold, and occasionally press pause on all of that in order for a gnarly zombie fight sequence to play out. The relative plot-lessness of it all and “and now here’s another famous person playing a bit character” nature of the story doesn’t always work.

Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch’s appearance as kind of shadow versions of Harrelson and Eisenberg, for example, runs the same joke into the ground and brings the film to a screeching halt. However, before too long the story moves on to something else, and as you watch Emma Stone mow down zombies or work through a sitcommy love triangle with Eisenberg you can see her smirk, sense her thinking “Oscars are great and everything, but sometimes you just want to shoot some damn zombies in a movie.” That’s the spirit in which Zombieland 2 demands to be enjoyed.

I don’t know how well that will work for anyone who hasn’t seen the first Zombieland, but Zombieland 2 works as a treat for the fans and a broad zom-com for any newbies

Did It Scare Me?

No, but I was scared on behalf of the multiple little kids – “little” meaning “they looked no older than 12, maybe as young as 6” – in the audience. Zombieland happened so long ago many of its fans are conceivably old enough to have moved into parenthood by now, and I think a lot of those fans brought their kids to my screening last night. Most of them seemed cool with the R-Rated language and gore. One kid, however, could be seen sucking his thumb during one head-smashing gore sequence.

Fun With Post-Credits

There are two post-credits scenes, one roughly a minute into the credits and another at the very end. The first is a must-see, the last not so much.

Where to See

In theaters

31 Days of Halloween So Far:

Next Up: Some slasher assholes mess with the wrong damn woman.

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