The first Zombieland—premiering ten years ago, before The Walking Dead became ubiquitous—is a zombie movie about zombie movies. This was back when that idea bore a modicum of meta fun, back when the tropes it explored weren’t ground into cliche pulp, back when zombie movies still had something to say. Now we have One Cut of the Dead, which decidedly isn’t a zombie movie so much as a lovely treatise on creating communal art, a theme still reflected in most zombie movies, though typically literalized by the need to band together with fellow living beings to defeat the dead and rebuild a functioning society. Now we have The Walking Dead in its tenth season, which isn’t about anything besides the urge to continue to exist, and now we have Zombieland: Double Tap, which is a Zombieland movie that isn’t about anything but the first Zombieland movie.
We rejoin our four ersatz family members a decade-ish after the zombie uprising of the first film, with our narrator Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) catching us up on the lives of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Columbus’s now-girlfriend Wichita (Emma Stone), who all live cozily together at the White House, because apparently in a decade no living human thought to hole up in that obviously safe fortress. In fact, a base sense of logic is mostly a burden throughout an unsurprisingly regressive, unimaginative take on the post-apocalypse. Men are men, women are women, and no homosexuals are allowed in Zombieland, what with all the strong, capable women we regularly meet seemingly feeling stuck to misogynist and/or incredibly unlikable guys for a lack of better choices. When Wichita and Little Rock escape Columbus and Tallahassee one night—after Columbus proposes to Wichita, even though marriage makes absolutely no sense in the context of this film, and Columbus is such an obnoxious, unpleasant person that even Oscar-winning Actor Emma Stone can’t believably fake liking him—we know they’ll be back. Because the four are a “family,” but also because all women in this film settle for the first human man they come across. Cut to Tallahassee refusing to drive a minivan because he doesn’t want to look gay.
Eventually we join our heroes as they leave the White House, meeting a few new characters along the way, including dumb blonde joke Madison (Zoey Deutsch, just doing her goddamned best), dumb hippie joke Berkeley (Avan Jogia, just doing his goddamned best), an incomprehensibly sexy lady who’s sole purpose is a late movie deus ex machina (Rosario Dawson, just doing her goddamned best) and two character actors who probably came in to shoot for a few hours (Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson, existing). Every single character is some shade of asshole, either one-note or viciously stupid; rather than draw parallels to archetypal zombie movie characters, as the first film did, these same characters seem to have experienced no character growth in the decade since, instead acting as vessels for the flowering of their worst impulses. A scene in which Madison is allegedly murdered for being a zombie is greeted with nothing but casual relief by Wichita and Tallahassee, which could be read as funny were it not so cruel.
Meanwhile, our crew gets word of a “new” kind of zombie, one that’s mutated into what’s referred to as a “T-800,” nearly unstoppable. That really only matters in the film’s idiotic final setpiece, but otherwise is just part of the lazy plot detritus that supposedly took three people to come up with. Pop culture references of course litter the film, but even though the characters are stuck in decade-old allusions, we’ve still had ten seasons of The Walking Dead, so when Columbus puts down a Walking Dead comic and comments that it’s not realistic, we chuckle because by this point our souls have left our bodies and we don’t know what humor is anymore.
Were Zombieland: Double Tap to double-down on its nihilism, on its hopelessness, on its cruelty, maybe it’d have something to contribute to an already waning sub-genre. Were its zombie effects impressive, maybe it could revel more in gratuitous grotesquerie. Instead, like director Ruben Fleischer’s also-star-stacked Venom before it, the sequel feels compromised, lumped with easy lessons about family and community, piecemeal and cobbled together from bigger ideas and the ever-nagging intuition that the sell-by date on the franchise has long expired.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, David Callaham
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutsch, Avan Jogia, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch
Release Date: October 18, 2019