Rated R, because zombies, I guess. I mean, there's language. There's a lot of gore. But a lot of it is silly. Like, I'm not going to liken it to the Disney Channel Original, Zombies. But I will say that this is more like Shaun of the Dead, but without an attempt to be vulnerable at any point. A few characters sleep around, but it's never really shown. There's a lot of gross out humor, but mostly involving gore and vomit. (The way I worded it makes it sound like vomit humor is okay in anyone's book.) It's probably an appropriate R.
DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer
The short version: Zombieland: Double Tap has a lot of the same problems that most sequels do. See, I'm in the camp of not thinking that it is the end of the world when a sequel isn't as revolutionary as the original. Yeah, I'm always a little disappointed, but I tend to have a good time. When the OG Zombieland came out a decade earlier, it was a welcome treat. A lot of people tried capitalizing on Shaun of the Dead's success and there were a bunch of weak copies of the same formula. (Comedy + Zombies = Cult Hit). But, honestly, I can't think of another great zombie comedy from this era. We were saturated with zombie content to the point where I even kind of almost swore off zombies. I will say that I was heavily on the zombie train when Shaun of the Dead came out and all I had was Romero and the Italian horror directors to turn to. But the wealth of zombie content eventually diluted the waters. That's when the 2009 Zombieland offered something good. It offered something different.
Zombieland's entire foundation, along with the sequel's foundation, relies on being self-aware. There's something really fun about killing zombies in unique and different ways. But the thing I always liked about the zombie apocalypse was the apocalypse element of it all. While the zombies were a real threat for the heroes of the story, what we cared more about was what it was like to live in a world without society. All of the joys of generations of progress was there. You could go hang out in a movie theater or rollerskate on the Golden Gate bridge. These movies, like one of my favorite shows, The Last Man on Earth, understood that there was something absolutely absurd at looking at the silver lining behind the slow extinction of mankind. Double Tap's use of the White House is probably my favorite element of the whole film. I like that we can juxtapose absolute absurdity over things that we considered sacred. I don't know why it works, but putting post-it notes over the eyes of Abraham Lincoln so he stops looking at you is positively adorable.
But Double Tap is part of the trend of sequels, especially nostalgic sequels, (I didn't know that ten years was the cutoff line), that is so beholden to the original movie that nothing really new is said. The first movie, to my decade old memory, focused on an unlikely combination of people forming a post-apocalyptic family. Columbus and Wichita were an unlikely couple. But over the course of the film, they put aside their differences and became romantically involved. But a sequel that has nothing new to say has to find ways to undo the first movie. Characters make mistakes that don't really seem plausible.
I'd like to stress this next point because it is going to be the crux of my argument for why nostalgic sequels are real problems, despite the fact that I will watch a nostalgic sequel any day. Ready for it? Ten years have passed. Ten years. That means that Columbus and Wichita have been together for a decade. We meet them in the comfort of relationship bliss. So, to get to the story we had in the first film, these characters have to be split up. But these two characters are treating their relationship like it is something unsure. Ten years into a story, people should be having difficult discussions without running off, just because. I mean, from the audience's point of view, nothing really happened between the two movies. But these characters have had a decade to evolve and to become something better off. The idea that Wichita would run off because of the possibility of a difficult discussion makes no sense. The idea that Columbus would sleep with someone else after a dedicated ten year relationship is silly. These moments were simply excuses to return to the conflicted state of the first movie. And with that conflicted state, we could return to some of the same jokes as the first movie. The non-diagetic elements of the first film were some of the best moments, having Columbus sharing his rules with the audience. But guess what? It's the same joke. It's a good joke and I don't mind hearing it again. But when I want actual new content, it doesn't do very much for me.
Also, Little Rock's story seems a little unfair. She definitely had the Hawkeye -from-the-first-Avengers-movie problem happening. She's an interesting character, but the movie did everything it could to minimize her interaction with the main characters. Tallahassee, Columbus, and Wichita are fundamentally the same characters that they were in the last film. They were all technically adults in the first film and their neuroses are still firmly in place. But Little Rock was a kid in the first movie. Ten years later, Abigail Breslin is now an adult. Little Rock was a kid who learned what family and survival were about in the zombie apocalypse. Every event that she had was skewed by a sense of normalcy. She should have weird questions about stuff that a kid would. Did she have an education? She acts like she knows a lot about stuff, despite the fact that none of the other characters seem aligned to educating her. It's even more confusing when she's hearing plagiarized music. It brought up a really good question: What would Little Rock really know about civilization? Yet, she's kind of dumped into a very far removed B-storyline. Sure, she's the Macguffin, but that's not much of a satisfying role.
And a lot of this comes from a lack of vulnerability on the part of the movie. The first Zombieland was fun. It kind of felt like a kegger for the zombie nuts out there. What's the funnest way to kill a zombie? Let's make a movie to find out. But the thing about all that mirth and partying is that it almost becomes like only eating dessert. The reason that dessert is so satisfying is that it is a stark contrast to the savory meal that happened ahead of time. When a dramatic moment happens in contrast to the funny, both moments matter so much more. The death of Shaun's mother in Shaun of the Dead was absolutely heartbreaking because it followed the funniest bit in the film, the choreographed attack to "Don't Stop Me Now". There was this opportunity to really make us feel something in the movie. My wife called that Tallahassee would die in the movie and I completely agreed. There was a moment where it was almost teased, which makes me think that the filmmakers really considered it seriously. But then, nothing. In fact, there is even a point in the movie where the heroes are completely overwhelmed by the new zombie, the T-800s. (Again, Zombieland thrives on being meta.) Then, Rosario Dawson's Nevada just shows up in a monster truck to kill all the zombies? That's a pretty intense deux ex machina. What happens is that the characters kind of become untouchable. It's okay to feel sometimes. Nevada is there almost as an excuse for Woody Harrelson to be back or not. It's this cake-and-eat-it-too scenario and it's kind of a bummer.
But this is why Madison works so well in the movie. Besides the fact that I love that her name is Madison, her jokes work really well, despite being not that complicated. (It's a backhanded compliment, but I'll explain.) Madison is an archetype. We get the ditzy valley girl as a character. We know what they can do and what they can't do. In most films, that character tends to be overused and forgettable. But the reason that Madison works in Double Tap versus in other films is the fact that she's really the only new thing in the movie. Yeah, we know Nevada. But Nevada is just Tallahassee III. (I do appreciate Albuquerque and Flagstaff jokes, but those characters are more bits than fleshed out characters.) She is there exclusively to compliment Tallahassee. But Madison is almost an anti-Zombieland character. She's not good at killing. She's not a perfect character. If anything, the joke is that she's nice when no one in this world is all that nice. I mean, even Columbus is appreciative of her niceness because his only trait is being neurotic. The fact that she Mr. Beans her way through the apocalypse is kind of great. It's something different and new and that's what I like.
So it all comes down to the problems that most sequels have: it is too in love with the original. Instead of ever being critical of the first film, it treats it like a hallowed text. Going off the rails may upset the die-hard fans, but it also creates something interesting and new that may be able to stand on its own two feet. This felt like a rewatch of a movie that I hadn't seen in a while, which is its own experience. But in terms of offering something new, it's not there.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.