In 2009, a year before The Walking Dead graced our screens, Zombieland arrived on the scene to make Zombies fun again! It had cult status written all over it, but this lightning in a bottle comedy turned out to be much more than that and struck a nerve with mainstream audiences. So perhaps it’s a little surprising that we’ve had to wait 10 years for a sequel. Had this appeared two or three years after the original we might have been expecting it. Instead, here we are a decade later, to find the all-star cast of Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Bresling reuniting for one more crack at the living dead!
10 years is a long time. In the real world the younger cast members have propelled forward into household names. But their characters Tallahassee (Harrelson), Wichita (Stone), Columbus (Eisenberg) and Little Rock (Breslin) are exactly as we remember them. Well, that’s not quite true. Having set up base in the White House since we last met, life has taken on a slightly more laid-back approach in Zombieland. But after a spur of the moment marriage proposal from Columbus, Wichita and Little Rock hit the road, scattering our major playing pieces across the undead board. In a journey that takes us from the Oval Office, through Graceland and into the supposed refuge of Babylon (named after the David Gray song), the laughs and the kills come thick and fast. That’s mainly thanks to a tight script and playful direction from the original team behind Zombieland. Combined with a cast who genuinely seem happy to be there, this never feels like a money-grab, more like a visit to check in on some old friends in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.
Let’s face it, if we’re going back for seconds there are only three things we want to see. Epic zombie-killings, bucket loads of laughter and Bill Murray. I can confirm that it delivers on all counts (if you stick around until the end credits). Not only are the kills more creative, they even have a cut-away section called ‘Zombie Kill of the Week’ which morphs into ‘Zombie Kill of the Century’. Some of these are a bloody joy to behold, my personal favourite involving the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Adding an extra layer to the whole zombie outbreak is the categorisation of certain ranks of zombie. These include the ‘Homer’ who stumbles around aimlessly, considered a waste of bullets. The ‘Ninja’ who attacks at the very last minute, quickly, when you least expect them. Most ominous of all is the ‘T-800’, so called after the robots from Terminator 2: Judgement Day and their inability to stay down no matter how severe the beating they take.
The laughs, as always, come from the group dynamic. The material they have to work with here is nothing ground-breaking but it’s enough to keep you smiling all the way through. Little Rock feels suffocated by Tallahassee’s over-protective father act, so she runs into the arms of a peace-loving hippy who rips off Bob Dylan songs. Columbus, feeling betrayed and abandoned, seeks solace in the first woman he finds who doesn’t remind him of Wichita at all (more on that later!). Tallahassee, well, he’s just Tallahassee and while there’s no whining about Twinkies this time around, almost everything that comes out of his mouth is pure gold.
Of course there are a few new characters thrown into the mix to spice things up. Rosario Dawson plays a no-nonsense gun-toting barkeep in an Elvis motel, the perfect counterpart to Harrelson’s Graceland-obsessed Tallahassee. Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch provide particularly satisfying additions to the cast. Essentially they are carbon copies of Tallahassee and Columbus and that inevitably leads to conflict, but also some of the films best gags. There are a few other inspired additions to the cast and nine times out of ten the additions worked. But for me, the absolute biggest mistake was the role of the airhead Madison, played by Zoey Duetch. Madison is introduced to us in a bright-pink coat, blonde hair and is giggly beyond belief. It doesn’t take a film critic to deduce that Madison is one of the most annoying characters in recent movie history. She was added to the story only as a means of showing that Columbus isn’t just settling for Wichita because she’s the last woman around.
But if we’re supposed to take her into our hearts because of how ditzy and oh-so-cute she is in her naiveté, then count me the fuck out. I hated it. It was a caricature of a caricature, lazily written and hastily thought out. Had she only been on screen for five minutes it would have been five minutes too long. Sadly, she’s a fairly significant presence in the story. Whether or not you take to the character of Madison will really affect your enjoyment of the film.
What’s nice to see, despite the stereotypical Barbie portrayal above, is the significance of the films main female characters. Not only do they arguably show the most growth, they are also central to the most defining moments of the zombie attacks. That’s not to say they’re to be billed as the kick-ass heroines, they are much more than that. It’s no coincidence that what causes Wichita and Little Rock to flee is the fact that they’ve both being caged into the roles of ‘wife’ and ‘daughter’. But the lessons they learn and the people they become are significant to the satisfying conclusion.
So did we need this film? Yes, yes we do. In an age where Marvel and Disney (or are they the same thing nowadays?) churn out remake after franchise it’s great to see a sequel to an original piece of work. Something that invites you to leave some of your brain at the door, but also bring a little into the screen with you. Yes, there are some clumsy jokes and gags that go nowhere. Hippies smoking pot and melting down guns into peace symbols isn’t exactly high art. But you’ll enjoy it on a primal level. You’ll also enjoy it because your body has been craving the blood and guts excitement that’s been lacking from the so-called ‘fun’ movies of the year. It’s not taking itself at all seriously and neither should you. I only wish more mainstream movies double-tapped as hard as this one.