Zombieland: Double Tap is a sequel that feels stuck in the past
The long-delayed Zombieland sequel has finally risen from the dead, but in more ways than one, it feels stuck in the past.
Director Ruben Fleischer's original 2009 comedy came along at the ideal time, as the zombie genre was just reaching its modern peak — a few years after Shaun of the Dead, a year after the zombie first-person shooter Left 4 Dead, and just before The Walking Dead would become a television phenomenon. But after Zombieland's massive success, a sequel stalled while the genre exploded in popularity and zombie comedy after zombie comedy flooded the marketplace. In this saturated environment, making a truly fresh sequel that didn't seem five or six years too late was a tall order. While not without its charms, Zombieland: Double Tap ultimately isn't quite up to the task.
Double Tap picks up ten years after the original movie's events, with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) searching for a new home in the post-zombie apocalypse and finding it in an unlikely place, taking up residence in the deserted White House. But after Little Rock runs away with a boy, Wichita, Tallahassee, and Columbus must team up to find her as a new kind of zombie begins to pose a threat.
Right away, Double Tap underwhelms by recycling some of its predecessor's key beats. The original film's final act saw Wichita and Little Rock split from the group when Wichita realizes she has grown too close to Columbus. In Double Tap, virtually the exact same events transpire for essentially the same reason, with Wichita once again abandoning the group because she's growing too close to Columbus, even though the cathartic conclusion of Zombieland involved the two coming together to form a family. Despite the time passed between installments, little character growth seems to have taken place.
This sort of echoing continues throughout, with the film mostly playing it safe by following its predecessor's outline, from another detour to a location related to a celebrity Tallahassee is obsessed with to a spectacular finale at a final destination Little Rock has fled to where hordes of zombies fall to their deaths. Considering the endless possibilities of the franchise's sandbox world, retreading such well-worn territory was a disappointing choice.
The clearest attempt to truly up the ante is with a new breed of zombies Columbus nicknames the T-800s. But they're essentially the same as regular zombies except harder to kill, and after getting a dramatic introduction, they actually don't present as much of a threat as you might expect. Typically, when these T-800s appear on screen, they're so similar to normal zombies that the distinction has to be pointed out through dialogue, making them, more often than not, just an attempt to differentiate the sequel on paper but not a tremendous amount in practice.
But there's another reason Double Tap feels so familiar: its reliance on comedy tropes that felt tired five years ago and do even more so now. This includes the character of Madison (Zoey Deutch), a "dumb blonde" archetype who spends every scene twirling her hair, taking selfies, and calling things "random." A large chunk of screen time is devoted to joke after joke about Madison's stupidity that aren't particularly inspired, right down to the old gag of a person looking through binoculars the wrong way.
There's also a heavily marketed bit in which the group runs into doppelgangers of Columbus and Tallahassee, another comedy trope that's somewhat amusing but doesn't really go anywhere new and takes the plot into one of a number of mostly irrelevant detours. Beyond that, even more sitcom cliches abound, from the old girlfriend walking in to awkwardly stumble upon the new girlfriend, to the angry overprotective "dad" who is just so mad about that darn hippie dating his "daughter."
Double Tap does pick up a bit in its third act, during which a more concerted attempt is made to shift the dynamic in how the zombie threat is dealt with. But as the film comes to a conclusion quite similar to that of the last film, we're struck with a sense that little has actually changed for the characters or this world since we left off an entire decade ago.
This cast of Oscar nominees is far too charismatic for Double Tap to not still be an enjoyable enough watch, and there are moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout, including a hilarious "zombie kill of the year" cutaway gag that rivals anything in the original film. These tiny asides and smaller lines tend to provide the biggest laughs, on top of an absolutely knock-out credits sequence that's almost worth the price of admission alone.
All in all though, bogged down by familiar plot beats and comedy cliches, Double Tap seems destined to become one of those highly-anticipated but mediocre follow-ups that fails to leave a lasting impression.
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