There’s trepidation when a comedy sequel comes around the bend ten years too late. There’s reason to believe it’s nothing but a cash grab and a complete rehash of the original, right down to the same jokes and beats of its predecessor. Dumb and Dumber To is the most egregious example, a bummer of a movie for any fan of the first time Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels mugged for the camera together. Zombieland Double Tap doesn’t suffer the same fate, even if it does fall into a few of the same traps that befall so many late-bloomer franchises. It’s an immensely fun and brisk tour through many towns across America, all of them dilapidated and overrun with a scavenging undead and the silly graphics, satire, and slow motion that made Zombieland so unique.
Director Ruben Fleischer (Venom) and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick DO revisit every joke, but they twist the punchline just enough for the joke to feel a bit fresh all over again. There are new jokes too (shocker!), mostly thanks to new people who bound into our lovable characters’ lives and upend them in more ways than one. Zoey Deutch is adorable as valley girl Madison, a walking snapshot of pink PINK-wearing consumerism of 2009. It’s as if she never matured beyond the last year of the aughts because, well, society crumbled after that. She’s also innocent and kind to the point of rendering her annoying habits charming and cute. Deutch is such an amiable screen presence that it’s difficult to hate her, and we root for her to live every step of the way. Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch pop up as hilarious mirror images of Woody’s Tallahassee and Jesse’s Columbus, and Rosario Dawson fits right in as Tally’s motel-squatting love interest, a tough broad who won’t get any more specific than “Nevada.” What’s missing is that moment or two in the original where shit got real or the silly antics turned serious.
The best parts are when these road warriors reference an entire culture that has sprouted up around them in response to the “necropolypse.” Of course zombies would evolve and of course Columbus would come up with different names for all of them. There’s more lingo, more rules, new twists and new havens, and even urban legends revolving around the events of 2009. Callbacks to the first movie are often a sly use of nostalgia, not grating or beating a dead horse. There’s still more to learn about Tally, Columbus, and Wichita (Emma Stone) as people now and before the outbreak, and Fleischer takes advantage of that. Their history and family dynamic is a sweet and sunny addition to the road trip hijinks. Stone doesn’t let her bigger fame blunt Wichita’s edges, her eye-rolling sarcasm or gun-toting mean streak. She’s still the tough-as-nails woman who won’t let anyone get too close to her or her little sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Woody is still good ol’ Woody, somehow embodying an ornery redneck like him with heart, and Eisenberg is always good for a smart-ass quip while holding a shotgun. His and Stone’s chemistry is more hit-and-miss this time around, and it doesn’t matter, because individually they’re better actors than before and it shows.
Fans can rejoice, Zombieland 2 is no Dumb and Dumber To. The cast is clearly having a blast and they haven’t aged out of their roles at all. It’s a gory, funny, garish satire once again and a pleasant trip down memory lane. There’s no besmirching the original or so many traps befalling the writers, save a flat one-liner or three, and Zoey Deutch and other newcomers enliven the margins of a story that couldn’t fail anyway. Not when the family’s back together and they’re all on point, riffing and ribbing each other like no time has passed at all. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick continue their hot streak and Fleischer redeems himself after last year’s Venom debacle. We can only hope the gang is back together much sooner the next time around. Zombieland 3 for 2023?