The first thing that occurred to me when they announced that Zombieland was getting a sequel featuring all of its original cast was what a surprise it was that they’d got Emma Stone to come back again. Her star has risen substantially since she appeared in the original movie and things like The Help, Birdman, La La Land and The Favourite have firmly made her a part of the Oscar crowd. Her films may not all have been great over the ensuing decade but she has always been great in them (as best illustrated by The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2) and the reputation she has built is such that another zombie comedy was not necessarily what you might have expected to turn up in the most recent employment box on her CV. As it turns out though, when you watch her back in this role the last ten years of her career instantly vanish. This is an observation rather than a criticism. It’s certainly applaudable that she doesn’t feel that she is above such things, especially when Zombieland (along with Superbad and Easy A) was one of the early performances that put her on the map in the first place. At no point do you feel you are watching the 2019 Emma Stone rather than the 2009 one though and actually it’s the least lacklustre performance I think I’ve ever seen her give. Whatever it was that got her back on board, whether it was a total humility and freedom from any sense of professional vanity or contractual obligation, she doesn’t seem to be giving this one all that she’s got.
Seeing Jessie Eisenberg returning alongside Emma Stone, the last ten years of his career similarly disappeared but conversely in his case this is no bad thing. The Social Network notwithstanding I feel that the stuttering indecisiveness that is his shtick has started to feel a little smug of late. In fact it worked perfectly in Fincher’s Facebook film but everywhere else it has become infuriating. In fact these two sides of the same coin parallels in his and Stone’s filmographies continue as whereas she was radiant as a supporting player in her two inferior superhero films, in Batman v Superman and Justice League, Eisenberg only added to the failings of his. Likewise she was good despite everything in the Woody Allen film she did and he was the worst thing in the one he did, which is odd as you’d think he’d be a perfect Allen substitute now that the director is too old to cast himself. (Actually though being Woody Allen has gone from being a good thing to a bad thing recently too.) Still, here in Zombieland 2, it is nice to see the Jesse Eisenberg thing be endearing again.
I’m not sure if it is clear or not from the way I am talking but I really like the first Zombieland and the dichotomy of what this film presents regarding the future employment prospects for two of its leading actors nicely mirrors the whole good news/bad news aspect that clings to so many belated sequels. Yes, it’s good to have these characters back doing the same thing again but these characters are back just doing the same thing again. It followed five years after Shaun of the Dead but with a quite different sensibility Zombieland was a smart and funny take on the established undead sub genre. It had a sharp script and some strong characterisation and a simply genius cameo from Bill Murray. Zombieland: Double Tap ticks a lot of the same boxes but it doesn’t really add anything. Some aspects are mixed up a little but none of it feels as fresh as it did first time round. For example take Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee and the thing he had for Twinkies in the first film. This has now been replaced by Tallahassee having a thing for Elvis but that’s not as original. If you reference Twinkies in your movie then you are only really calling Ghostbusters to mind but doing a whole gag around idolising the King of Rock of Roll brings comparisons to a whole range of other films from Honeymoon in Vegas and True Romance to Lilo & Stitch and Happy Feet. It’s been done too many times before.
In the end that’s the problem with Zombieland: Double Tap; it’s all been done before. Even some of the new characters are copies of the old ones. It isn’t an insurmountable problem though. This film tests how far your love of one film will carry you through its sequel and the answer is that it carries you far enough. There are high points; Zoey Deutch plays someone new called Madison and she is excellent. (I’m not sure if she bucks the trend for everyone being named after where they are trying to get to or not but these films are still broadening my knowledge of American geography.) The film seems to have a strong anti-pacifist which I’m not sure I can go with 100% and having established how intelligent the zombies are becoming, they all seem pretty dumb at the end. It is still fun though and that is all it really needed to be to survive.
The Ripley Factor:
Zoey Deutch’s character may not be the best representation of strong feminism but she knows what she wants and she gets it. Elsewhere all of the women in the movie are formidable and generally smarter than the men. Abigail Breslin’s Little Rock has a small moment of cliche when she runs off with an older guy but that all wraps up neatly and she turns out to be a key player at the end. No one is objectified, there’s no nudity; equality survives the apocalypse.