10-Year Reunion: "Zombieland: Double Tap" a ridiculously fun companion piece that works just as well a decade later

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
99 min.
Release Date: October 18, 2019 (Wide)

Released when the zombie genre was already getting a little long in the tooth yet prior to the craze of TV's "The Walking Dead," 2009’s sleeper hit “Zombieland” was a rollicking breath of fresh air with energy, attitude, and plenty of blown-up zombies. As much giddy fun as it was, it was not, however, a film that needed a sequel, unless there was more story to tell or another inventive take on the zombie subgenre. Returning director Ruben Fleischer (2018’s “Venom”) and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (2018’s “Deadpool 2”), with an assist from co-writer Dave Callaham, have neither, but they do deliver a solid reunion with the endearing characters we liked ten years ago and a lot of the same snappy banter and chemistry they shared before. As a 10th-anniversary sequel, “Zombieland: Double Tap” works far better than it should, carrying over the same ingredients that were so likable the first time around and supplementing them with a few new ideas and characters. It might not pass the worth-the-wait test, but if you enjoyed the first trip to Zombieland in 2009, you will probably enjoy this double dip in 2019.

The blustery, free-wheeling Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), neurotic Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), acerbic Wichita (Emma Stone), and rebellious teen Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have gotten this far in surviving the zombie-filled wasteland like a family and have recently set up shop in the White House. They all have their foibles: Columbus proposes to Wichita, but she has been so used to taking care of her and her sister that she’s unsure of making that commitment, and Little Rock wants to break free of Tallahassee’s strict father-figure rules and find a boyfriend. When Wichita and Little Rock run off, Tallahassee is tired of Columbus being heartbroken until meeting the dippy Madison (Zoey Deutch), who’s somehow survived living in a mall’s Pink Berry freezer for a year. It’s not until Wichita shows up for supplies, and the family is back on the road, with Madison tagging along, to find Little Rock, who’s taken off with a pacifist hippie musician, Berkeley (Avan Jogia), for Graceland.

Before a single frame of the film proper, there is a hilarious tweak to the torch-wielding lady in the Columbia Pictures logo, and then, we’re off. “Zombieland: Double Tap” opens not unlike “Zombieland” to a slo-mo tableau of zombie carnage, this time set to Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” with the makeshift  family slaying a slew of the undead. In a meta voice-over, Columbus welcomes the audience back and seems surprised that we came back. It isn’t hard to remain attached to these characters as one did a decade ago when they were first introduced, and even if they don't evolve deeply here, each one of them has changed a tiny bit (i.e. Tallahassee no longer pines for a Twinkie) and make pleasant company. There are new categories of zombies, including the Homer, the Hawking, the ninja, and the T-800, which are souped-up and harder to kill. Then again, the zombies are window dressing and beside the point here. There is, however, one bravura, kinetic attack scene in Nevada’s hotel, fluidly staged with care in making the seamless illusion of being shot in one take.

The core foursome is “back for seconds,” but it never seems like they are just in it for the paycheck; everyone looks thrilled to be here and enjoying themselves. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson still have their son-father dynamic; Emma Stone is still an ace when it comes to deadpanning; and it’s fun to see Abigail Breslin returning to a role she took when she was 13. As for the brightest and most welcome addition, Zoey Deutch (2017’s “Flower”) is a scene-stealing delight playing Madison, an air-headed, Juicy Couture-wearing valley girl with an adorable sweetness and dead-on comic timing; her prescient idea of Uber is a hoot. Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson show up, too, as Flagstaff and Albuquerque, doppelgängers of Columbus and Tallahassee, and Rosario Dawson is also great to see, never utilized enough but still shining as a badass Elvis-themed hotel owner Nevada who becomes the love interest Tallahassee needs and gets to drive a getaway monster truck, to boot.

Is it more of the same? Yes, of course. Is that such a bad thing? No, not at all. “Zombieland: Double Tap” is still a gleeful lark all over again. The callbacks to the first film are plentiful, like Columbus' survival rules (#1: Cardio, #2: Double tap, etc.) popping up on the screen, a device that admittedly wears out its welcome this time around if one needs to quibble, and Tallahassee gets in his “nut up or shut up” catchphrase (in a knowing touch, Wichita tells him to get a new one). “Murraying” also becomes a verb for killing someone who is not a zombie, and speaking of Bill Murray, the end credits’ coda is an added bonus. Though sequels usually cannot fully recapture lightning in a bottle, “Zombieland: Double Tap” is a ridiculously entertaining companion piece that’s about neck and neck with its predecessor.

Grade: B