It is a decade after we last saw the pseudonymous zombie outbreak survivor Colombus (Jesse Eisenberg) and his travelling companions. Man-child Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is busy appointing himself President of the United States. Columbus and Wichita (Emma Stone) are settling uncomfortably into a long-term relationship. Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), now a young adult, is craving contact with people her own age. She jumps ship for a hippie (Avan Jogia) on the road to Graceland, leaving her erstwhile companions on a chase to find and bring her back.
Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 zombie comedy Zombieland was a knock-out hit, not only rising above the then-saturated zombie movie market but guaranteeing itself an instant long-term cult following. It distinguished itself with a pitch-perfect cast, a superb sense of self-awareness (for once, the characters recognised the zombies from pop culture), and a gleefully inappropriate approach to blood and gore that made the violence feel less like horror and more like the Looney Tunes. A sequel was constantly discussed for years but never came together until now.
What the viewer gets out of Zombieland: Double Tap is likely going to be based on expectations. Expect a ground-breaking new development on the concept, or something quite as fresh as the original film, and you will be deeply disappointed. Expect another 99 minutes in the company of much-liked and amusing characters, and you will hopefully have one hell of a time. There is always a creative challenge facing any sequel – hew close to the original, or chart new territory? – and Double Tap for the most part sticks very close to the former. Nobody has changed, nobody has particularly grown, and much of the humour comes from variations of older jokes. The film is not remotely directed at new viewers. Rather, it is squarely aimed at giving pre-existing fans another dose of self-aware zombie mayhem.
While it is good to revisit the protagonists again, the strongest elements of Double Tap are for the most part new characters. Rosario Dawson is a welcome addition as Nevada, the cool-headed gunslinger and bar owner. Avan Jogia gets a solid amount of laughs as the pot-smoking and insincere Berkeley. The real surprise of the film, and easily worth the price of admission alone, is Zoey Deutsch as Madison. As with all of the key characters, she inhabits a stereotype – in this case the ‘dumb blonde’ cliche. Through a combination of faultless performance and a particularly sharp, often-times brutal screenplay, she generates the film’s best laughs, mercilessly skewering consumer culture (they find her in a mall) yet remains oddly likeable at the same time. Similarly strong satire is woven in during the film’s final act, set in a twentysomething’s pacifist paradise named Babylon.
One could easily fault Double Tap for a lack of originality – one major comedy sequence is effectively stolen from Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead – but at the same time it’s slickly produced, engagingly performed, and ultiumately very, very funny. The ambition may be lower than desired, but as an act in giving an audience exactly what they want it’s still one of the funniest movies you can see this year.
Zombieland: Double Tap opens in Australian cinemas today.