IF THERE IS ONE ILLNESS that movies suffer from more than any other at the moment, it’s that they often come down with a really bad case of ‘the sequels’. It feels as if every pitch session now comes with, implicit or explicit, questions as to whether or not there is scope for sequels, extended universes, or other canon and the answer to those questions has a significant bearing on the chances of a promising picture seeing the next round of development, never mind being made.
As with video games, books, TV shows, and other forms of entertainment, in the movies a stand-alone instalment is becoming incredibly rare and sequels, prequels, and remakes are standard expectations. This is what I mean by ‘the sequels’, it is a condition that occurs when a movie that has no need for a sequel has one bolted on when then original was fine as a stand-alone entity. I wouldn’t go so ‘ok boomer’ as to say ‘the sequels’ is ruining modern cinema, but I do think, as a phenomenon, it has some downsides.
I have a sceptical but optimistic view when it comes to sequels. I grew up enjoying the Back to the Future trilogy (still the only film series that is good three instalments deep) and the supremely underrated Psycho series but I also remember the lessons of Star Wars, the Karate Kid, Caddyshack, and Grease, all of which saw great a movie’ reputation tarnished by the stapling-on of utterly garbage sequels. Perhaps the nadir of the formation of this optimistic pessimism regarding sequels came when The Matrix (permanently in my top five movies ever made. Ed - can I please do a top five or top ten movies soon? “Yes” - Ed), a film that changed the definition of action movies in the biggest way since Die Hard, had its legacy pissed-on from atop a huge GCI skyscraper with the woeful Reloaded and Revelations additions.
If I didn’t have such massive respect for the Wachowskis (they get a lifetime pass for making V for Vendetta... and should count their blessings for it) then they would probably have been on the receiving end of a stern Scottish tongue-lashing from yours truly before now.
I guess what I’m saying is that, provided that I enjoyed the first in a series, I can’t promise to go in with my usual clean slate of expectations but I will confess, albeit several paragraphs in, that I go in with an attitude that grants the possibility that it might be good but fully prepared for the even higher probability that it won’t be.
The original Zombieland, released in 2009, was a daft, obscene, dirty little juvenile fart at the back of the classroom of a movie, that revelled in just being filthy. It showed all those serious zombie flicks or shows (looking at you The Walking Dead, perhaps the ultimate in ‘knowing when to stop before you turn into a dreary, tawdry, boring, ugly, pile of serious guff’ cautionary tales) that they needed to lighten up and enjoy playing around in the simple stories and blood-splatter. It followed a plucky group of survivors, as these things always do, in post-zombie apocalyptic America as they learned simple lessons and bonded as an improvised family of zombie killers. In short, this reviewer found that the teenage boy that lives in his head and occasionally gets to work the sensibility controls was a big fan of Zombieland. It’s gross, stupid, crass, and really, really fun!
Zombieland: Double Tap picks up a real-time ten years after the original and sees our survivors, the dorky Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), walking Trump rally-turned father figure Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), ass-kicking action girl Wichita (Emma Stone), and her now-adult little sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) living in the White House. Their peace is shattered when Little Rock and Wichita run away, the latter being freaked out by Columbus’ clingy nature and the former annoyed at her reluctant father figure, and is further smashed when Little Rock then runs away from her sister to join a hippie commune called Babylon.
What follows is a fairly simple ‘buddy-up to get the missing one back’ plot complete with zany new character, a sweat-hearted but simple bimbo called Madison (Zoey Deutch) and a new ‘big bad’ in the form of a new kind of zombie that threatens the new haven the group have found. Themes of love, family, restlessness, fitting-in, conformity, and generational conflict are all present and have their moment in the movie, much as you would expect, and the whole thing is wholesome, if not particularly deep.
Normally, I’d bring in aspects of cinematography and other technical issues into this part of the review but Double Tapmakes it nice and easy to sum up very quickly. It’s fine. Much like the previous instalment, it manages to look gritty without being unpleasant and the big ticket visuals are there to send audiences home happy with what they’ve seen. In fact, it’s difficult to say anything good or bad about the way Zombieland: Double Tap has been made because all of its production is of that ubiquitous ‘competent, if not especially innovative’ type that characterises so much of modern cinema. If you’re there just to see some badass people get on with blowing zombie skulls up in increasingly elaborate ways then you’ll enjoy it.
In terms of story, again, competent is the word that seems to linger around Double Tap like the odour of freshly exploded gunpowder. The core cast are fun to watch play off one another and Eisenberg and Harrelson especially remain a particularly likeable ‘odd couple’ style double-act. Deutch’s Madison is great when she’s allowed on screen but a clutch of bad writing decisions put her out of view for much of the movie, meaning that her role feels unnecessarily shrunken down, which is a real pity.
Otherwise, the script is fun and self-aware enough to be a zombie comedy without being annoyingly self-indulgent or preachy while still keeping the adolescent boy who loves this stuff, and lives inside all our heads if we’re being honest, happy with the amount of comic book violence on screen.
Honestly, as a film critic, I’m running out of ways to say, “yeah, it’s alright” so I’m going to stop here.
Far more important, when it comes to Zombieland: Double Tap, than the question of its quality, things in that regard are only slightly diminished since the first one, is the question of its necessity; only that way does a diagnosis for ‘the sequels’ or a clean cinematic bill of health lie.
I’m afraid that the prognosis is not good for this budding franchise and all tests show that it has a full-blown case of the illness. The chances were high to begin with as the first movie ended on such a clear and definitive ending point, with each character having gone through enough development to draw an arc, and no obvious jumping-off point having been left. It feels as if the directors were so surprised at just how popular Zombieland was that they woke up from their cocaine piles for long enough to bleat something cynical about ‘just raising the stakes’ into a dictaphone before they passed out. There’s nothing really new or interesting here and it feels like an entirely forgettable cliched sequel in every single sense. I’m sorry, but there was no real good reason that Zombieland: Double Tap needed to exist.
However, I won’t go so far as to say I didn’t enjoy it as I fall into the ‘if you liked the first Zombieland, then you’ll like this because it’s basically just more of it’ cohort, but it is my hope that cinema audiences will have higher standards than us critics... after all, it’s your demands that make the movies we watch. In many ways, you are ‘the sequels’ patient zero and I hope you’re proud of yourselves.