'Zombieland: Double Tap' proves the zombie genre still has some life in it

We're so glad this story wasn't left undead.

In a sea of tired sequels and reboots, Zombieland: Double Tap is a brilliant, raucous adventure nobody saw coming. While the Walking Dead lumbered on into obscurity, Zombieland has been biding its time, like a Ninja zombie just waiting for the right moment to leap out of the shows and eat your brains (and yes, that’s actually a thing in this movie).

My greatest fear for Zombieland: Double Tap was that the whole thing might feel unnecessary and only serve to ruin one of my favorite movies of the late 2000s — one that I rewatched time and time again. Zombieland always felt like the American Shaun of the Dead, a clever horror-comedy that became a touchstone for the genre, except where Edgar Wright’s classic is clever and cheeky, this movie is bombastic, gratuitous, and glorious. “Are they really making a sequel?” many of us groaned at the initial announcement.

I’m so glad they did, and now I want more. Truly, any fan of the original will adore Zombieland: Double Tap in equal measure.

Double Tap has no choice but to pick things up a decade later in real-time. Abigail Breslin, who plays Little Rock, made the jump from 13 to 23 over the past decade, but for each of the other three stars, it’s as if nothing’s changed. We’re reconnecting with long-lost friends after an unfortunate hiatus, and it’s a delight.

In the decade since, Wichita (Emma Stone), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and Little Rock (Breslin) have taken up residence in the White House, turning the oval office into their home base because why not? Somebody would do it in the apocalypse, so why not this weird family? Columbus and Wichita sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom, but they have to put Post-its over Abe’s eyes. Tallahassee plays a father figure to Little Rock while building a Mad Max car to mow down zombies.

Columbus and Tallahassee blow off some steam in a mall.

Sony Pictures

The action throughout is spectacular, from the opening slow-mo sequence to the epic final battle that’s even bigger than part one’s carnival finale. With what feels like a bigger budget, Zombieland: Double Tap is able to up the extremes in the best ways possible, which mainly comes in the form of additional cast and bigger explosions.

Columbus remains the narrator and protagonist with his neurotic rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse and his and awkward demeanor — and, where appropriate, the rules themselves become part of the movie. (That was always part of the charm!) Tallahassee is still backing him up, the hyper-masculine yet lovable foil to Eisenberg’s beta male archetype. Their easy camaraderie still feels like the emotional backbone that makes this story work.

The developments in Columbus’ relationship to Wichita feel at once regressive but also necessary. After a time of peace living in the White House, the women run away, feeling smothered by the men. Setting off what initially feels like a predictable plot.

Sound familiar? Double Tap is to the original Zombieland as The Force Awakens is to the original Star Wars. Many of the same plot beats and general conflicts are rehashed, but the sheer quality of the adventure is more than enough to keep things wildly entertaining. Little Rock runs off with a hippie from Berkeley, which compels Wichita to ask the guys for help on an adventure that takes everyone from the White House to Graceland (yes, Elvis’ house) and beyond.

Nevada (Rosario Dawson) is the perfect match for Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson).

Sony Pictures

Along the way, we’re introduced to Madison (Zoey Deutch) and Nevada (Rosario Dawson), who fit right in like they’ve always been here waiting. Both new characters are quickly paired off with their respective male counterparts in a way that might feel lazy if their personalities weren’t so well defined. Deutch gets some of the best laughs in Zombieland: Double Tap, while Dawson serves as a perfect match for Harrelson’s Tallahassee in every way, from her enthusiasm for Elvis to the way she handles a revolver.

Double Tap exceeds expectations on every level by delivering all the same energy, charm, action, and laughs of the first while expanding out the universe in appropriate measure. It’s still a master class in actually making sarcasm entertaining to watch. If anything, things are smarter and sharper this time around — albeit less original — and the introduction of new characters and evolutions for the zombies breathe new life into the (un)dying genre.

The callbacks are measured and the jokes as relentless as a horde of T-800s. (Like Ninja, T-800 is the name given to a new evolution of zombie.) Different zombies have gotten smarter, faster, stronger, or dumber — but never a combination of these four things. It’s an appropriate way to increase the stakes.

Double Tap feels self-aware in a way that elevates it perhaps beyond even the original, poking fun at itself and pushing the entire genre forward in amusing ways.

Thomas Middleditch as Flagstaff and Luke Wilson as Albuquerque in 'Zombieland: Double Tap'.

Sony Pictures

Columbus scoffs at a Walking Dead comic he reads in bed for being scary and unrealistic, and later, when the movie steals that hilarious doppelgänger joke from Shaun of the Dead, it’s taken to a farcical extreme that might even surpass than the original. Thomas Middleditch plays the nervous but smart Columbus clone, and Luke Wilson is a reflection of Tallahassee’s aggressive machismo — except he drives a monster truck instead of a limo with a mounted machine gun. These aren’t even the best jokes in the movie.

As Columbus might say, Rule Number 96: Go see Zombieland: Double Tap the first chance you get.

Zombieland: Double Tap will be released in theaters October, 18.

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