Evolution may seem like an unlikely companion to the apocalypse since what is there really left alive to evolve but if you stop and think about it, that pesky virus that got this entire nightmare of undead destruction shambling on its merry gothic path is going to stop doing its thing just because the world has ended.
In fact, Darwin, were he still alive enough to give a damn, would no doubt be fascinated by the fact that zombies, thanks to their viral loads, aren’t content with just being dead.
Nope, in Zombieland: Double Tap, the decade-after sequel to Zombieland (2009), the swarms of undead are getting their Terminator on, evolving into a faster, more coordinated hunting machine known, not even remotely affectionately as the T-800.
For Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), the presence of these new lethal killing machines aren’t an immediate concern, ensconced as they are in the White House, yes that White House, living a life of luxury with all the trappings of the now extinct presidency at their disposal.
In their world, the big problems are the three existing types of zombies – Homers (dumb as the proverbial and thus easily distracted), Hawkings (smart and capable of learning and thus killing better) and Ninjas (which can catch you unawares) and for Wichita and Columbus, now somewhat wrapped up in romantic bliss, the fact that Lincoln’s eyes (they are in the bedroom bearing his name) follow you everywhere, including where you’re having sex.
Yup, pretty awkward.
Safe inside solid walls and behind big fences, theirs is as cushy a life as you can manage in the apocalypse and thus it looks to remain for the duration.
Though ten years older, the four-member family, as dysfunctional as any family you can think of but close even so, are bantering and quipping and getting along with things much as they’ve always done.
That is until Wichita, who chafing at the bit as a young twenty-something under Tallahassee’s tough love parenting decides she wants to hit the road and go to Graceland, dragging Wichita, her sister, along with her.
They leave in the dead of night, leaving Columbus bereft and Tallahassee protectively oblivious, both men resigned to the fact that they have been abandoned.
The solution is, of course, as it is now, some retail therapy and so at a local mall, which frankly has seen far better days, where they meet the gloriously innocent and hilariously inept Madison (Zoey Deutch, who totally steals the film) who has survived by hiding in a great big freezer.
She is a delightful breath of fresh air in a film which, truth be told, doesn’t really do all that much new and different with its characters, in a plot that isn’t all that challenging either.
Having said that, and yes, it needs to be acknowledged the sequel is as sequel as they get, retreading the characters, who appear to have been frozen in time for the last ten years, and plot lines from its predecessor, Zombieland: Double Tap is a lot of fun.
Writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham, the first two of whom worked on the original, play to the strengths of our favourite survivor foursome, with Tallahassee the tough, emotionally out of reach father figure who hates mini-vans (the running gag is that it’s the only vehicle they can find that works consistently), Columbus as consumed with order, routine and his trademark rules as ever (these are superimposed bigger than life all over the screen), Wichita tough and capable and a teensy-weensy bit scared of commitment, and Little Rock, wiser and older and ready for some fun.
Which she finds with stoner hippy Berkeley (Avan Jogia) who whisks her off to a place called Babylon (or BABY-lon as Madison mispronounces with much glee) after life with her sister gets a tad too restricting.
It is, much like the film that started it all, a road trip, a narrative device which gives the writers plenty of opportunities to introduce new characters like Nevada (Rosario Dawson), who won’t divulge her town of origin, mucking up the apocalyptic naming system no end, and Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch) who arrive on the scene at one point looking eerily like Tallahassee and Columbus’s doppelgängers.
Tallahassee and Columbus cannot see the screamingly obvious similarities, not even when they end up in a fight to the death with their lookalikes, the exact circumstances of which are best left for a viewing of the film.
Zombieland: Double Tap is not going to do down in the annals of zombie cinema as one of the great entries, not because it’s not a fun, passable and very funny sequel, which it is, but because a lot of time has moved on since the first film was released and we are very close, if not past the point, of reaching Peak Undead.
Everywhere you look zombies are swarming across the pop culture landscape, making it all the more challenging to say something fresh, new and interesting.
Some authors and filmmakers have managed it in the time since but in the deluge of zombies that is our viewing and reading life these days – yep, we spend our lives reading about death; oh, the entertaining irony – staking your claim to be something bold and different is no easy task.
So who can blame the writers, and director Ruben Fleischer, for simply giving us a repeat of the first film, with a few extra touches and new characters to make things a little more interesting.
That may sound like damning with faint praise but Zombieland: Double Tap is a helluva lot of fun – it’s like reuniting with very funny, quip-rich, banter-enthusiastic friends who, rules aside, have found that sticking together as a family is the way to survive an event which is anything but friendly to any of the hallmarks of commonly-accepted humanity.
Walk into this film with that mindset and enjoy it for the burnished nostalgia trip that it is, remembering that while the viruses may have evolved, not everyone else has, and that’s okay when the status quo is as hilariously over-the-top and manically fun as this one.