Zombieland: Double Tap review

A decade ago, in a more innocent time of, Ruben Fleischer took silver screens by storm with Zombieland, a peculiar yet oddly impactful blend of horror and comedy that immediately distinguished itself from the assorted undead flicks of the early 21st century – setting itself apart from predecessors such as the remake of Dawn of the Dead and the 28 Days duology, it presented the concept of a zombie outbreak through a singularly unique lens, and the result was a film that left an undeniably lasting impression on viewers, yet seemed to slip away into obscurity nonetheless. Much talk was initially made of a sequel, talk that fell silent as the years passed on. Imagine my surprise, then, when it turned out that the quartet of cadaver-killers would indeed return, demanding that we once again nut up or shut up.

Ten years hence, after repeated whispers and rumours of a follow-up, Columbus and his company of seasoned survivors snark, snipe and slay their way back into cinemas – despite such an extensive stretch of time separating both films, and Columbus himself expressing surprise in one of many jabs that are aimed at the audience, little has changed. Eisenberg, Stone and Harrelson are remarkably resistant to the effects of time, the three looking as though they have hardly aged a day since their last outing in their setting's universe. Breslin's Little Rock, however, has noticebly aged up from whn we last saw her, and this fact forms part of the bedrock of the movie's narrative. Older, wiser and, Little Rock is quick to fly the nest – joined by Stone's Wichita, joining her for personal reasons of her own – and so the gang's second adventure begins, resulting in another trek across the corpse-infested wilds of post-apocalyptic America.

If the synopsis seems plain, that is admittedly because it is – while serviceable, and serving as a vehicle to ferry the cast to an array of fetching locations, it is hardly standout, existing as a get from A to B deal and little else. The character interactions take precedence – it is chiefly a comedy, at heart – and after all the intervening years the cast's chemistry remains unchanged. The core four bounce off of one another with impeccable comedic timing and a helpful smattering of emotional and purposeful moments atop their comic exchanges, helped further by the addition of a new face. Zoey Deutch's Madison plays the archetype of the alluring yet utterly clueless valley girl so strictly to the hilt that it threatens to break, and her natural chemistry with the central cast members assists in the creation of a character that succeeds in being consistently amusing despite the decidedly one-note nature of her existence. Not to be outdone, the mains are sure to ramp up their repartee whenever they have the chance, especially Harrelson, who milks the character of Talahassee for all he's worth in all his trigger-happy, car-crazy, Elvis-idolising glory.

zombieland double tap 2019 movie embed1Familiar elements from Zombieland return to further spice up the interactions – Columbus' rules in particular are placed front and centre to highlight and emphasise funny and serious moments alike, and despite it all Little Rock is still very much Talahassee's 'kid', gaining another avenue for exploration and development in the form of Avan Jogia's pacifistic 'Berkeley'. Some characters do find themselves wanting, however, chiefly Wichita, who here seems to exist to perform one of two functions – voice concerns about Little Rock, and snap back and forth with Columbus in a bizarre sort of holding pattern that prevents genuine forward momentum from being generated, and resultantly she regrettably appears to be more of a hanger-on.

It's not all barbs, however; as with its forebearer, Double Tap is perfectly willing to sink its teeth into some time-testing zombie-killing fun that is overall well-paced without feeling too frenetic when the going gets tough and shots are fired. Where comedy stands out, however, action does at times take something of a backseat – after the inventive opening sequence wherein the survivors mow down a horde of brain-munchers in the front lawn of the White House, cleverly blending over-the-top, guns-blazing fare with an opening credits section, most of what remains comes across as fairly sedate by comparison, with considerably more time given over to trading dialogue. Not that it fails to impress, indeed, far from it – when action calls, it is for the most part dynamic and fast-paced, Fleischer putting his improved directorial chops to use especially after the release of 2018's Venom.

Yet compared to the first there is a strange sense of restraint, perhaps tempered by the director's experience in the years since the release of the original, or perhaps simply mindful of the passage of time. The finale, however, does not disappoint, and while the action itself is not as madcap as that distant romp so many moons past, the film does take measures to address this, chiefly with the addition of the 'Zombie Kill of the Year', another subtle nod to and an improvement on an element of the first film, plenty crazy and inventive in its own way. I shan't reveal, but I will say that there are kills that will have you leaning forward in anticipation, as it were.

So many sequels now fall into the trap of seeming meaningless, or lacking in passion and enthusiasm, or worst of all, they set out to actively dismantle and even insult the titles that came before them. Not so here – while time has made it slightly more sedate in some respects, Double Tap is a respectable number two that treats its limited legacy well, respects its audience, and accomplishes almost precisely what it sets out to do. Will this lead to a third instalment, perhaps another ten years down the line? Who can say. What is certain, however, is that for good old-fashioned bloody entertainment, this sequel is well worth the wait.

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Jack Gibbs is a Screenjabber contributor

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