There’s something about zombies that has captured our collective attention in this era of stark contrasts. Perhaps it’s that the zombies serve as a metaphor for the other, those people who don’t agree with you, who have starkly different and often abhorrent beliefs, values and lifestyles. Surely they can’t be thinking adults and believe what they’re espousing! Whatever the case, even 133 episodes of The Walking Dead hasn’t slowed down our undead shuffle to the theater with each new movie.
Ten years ago Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock brought a zany new energy to the genre by reminding us that while a zombie apocalypse is pretty grim – people are eating other people! – that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good laugh while trying to survive. That was the original and surprisingly witty and amusing Zombieland and for many people, it rocketed to the top of their Zombie Top Ten lists. My own children have watched it over and over again, laughing every time.
The following year Shaun of the Dead came out from director Edgar Wright, starring the comic duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Also funny, very British. Along with a whole lot of other zombie “comedies”: Juan of the Dead, Cockneys vs Zombies, Warm Bodies, Fido, Dead Snow (I mean, Nazis + Zombies should be a total winner, right?) and, earlier this year, The Dead Don’t Die. Problem is, they were mostly not very funny at all because comedy, it turns out, is hard.
Which is why I’m delighted to report that the Zombieland sequel Zombieland Double Tap is just as hilarious as the original. In fact, while Rule #1 might be Cardio, I’m going to add that Rule #99 should be Don’t Make a Sequel If It’s Not As Good As The Original. That would cut out oh, so many sequels, but wouldn’t that be a good thing? I mean, it’s not like people are dying to see sequels or anything!
Zombieland Double Tap comes out ten years after the original, and, logically, ten years have passed in the dark and dangerous apocalyptic world of Zombieland. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Wichita (Emma Stone) have become a couple and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have an awkward father/daughter sort of tension. They’ve moved into The White House (why not, it’s the apocalypse and it’s just sitting empty!) and Little Rock is oh, so tired of having no-one her age. Meanwhile, some of the zombies have apparently evolved in the last decade too, and they’ve picked up the name T-800. They’re much tougher than the run-of-the-mill zombies and almost impossible to kill.
The story really begins with Little Rock deciding she wants to leave and visit Graceland. It’s the fabled home of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, after all. Wichita decides she’ll go with and the two of them vanish into the zombie dawn, stealing Tallahassee’s beloved “Beast” armored vehicle for their journey. Columbus wants to follow them, but Tallahassee is insistent that they stay in their house of safety and wait for the women to return.
While exploring an abandoned shopping mall, they meet the airhead vegan Madison (a hilarious Zoey Deutch) who immediately attaches herself to Columbus. Madison doesn’t have two neurons to rub together, but proves a delightful comic foil with her painful naivety and cluelessness. They do finally head to Graceland to try and rescue Little Rock, who has hooked up with Berkeley (Avan Jogia), a pacifist hippie, guitar strapped across his back. Rounding out the primary cast is Elvis hotel owner Nevada (Rosario Dawson).
While a lot of the humor plays off the original film – like “Murray’ing” someone – there’s plenty to enjoy if you are new the franchise. There’s nothing really surprising about the story, almost no tension in any of the scenes, and not much commentary on our current society (other than the long-running snark around Babylon, the peace and love commune where the latter portion of the film takes place). But like a comfortable pair of jeans, Zombieland Double Tap is fun and entertaining in a way that few modern films attain. No anxieties about being politically correct, no heaviness around The Message, just a fun romp in a zombie apocalypse that will keep you laughing from start to finish. And don’t miss the mid-credit cameo. It’s terrific!
Dad at the Movies Addendum: While the zombie apocalypse is played for laughs, there are still some violent scenes and a few moments of pretty yechy splatter and gore. If you’re sensitive, or you have younger kids who are squeamish, this might not be the film for them. But when they’re older, they’ll love it!