No matter how terrible a movie is, there’s an audience for it. America is a big, diverse, weird country, full of all types of people, and some of them can be counted on to see just about anything. If initial projections are correct, $25-million-to-$30-million worth of tickets will be spent this weekend on Zombieland: Double Tap, the sequel to the modestly budgeted, modestly entertaining 2009 zombie comedy Zombieland. Perhaps you remember Zombieland. Clever movie: Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg played a couple of bros cracking jokes while blowing away the undead. Zombieland is the sort of film that’s better than it probably needs to be and possesses just enough wit and style that you slightly overrate it. In other words, it’ll eventually be deemed a “cult classic.” But, hey, there was that funny part where Bill Murray played himself, right? That was cool.
What’s special about a film like Zombieland is that, amidst a sea of mega-serious blockbuster franchises, it thumbed its nose at all that pompousness and just had a blast being a nasty, R-rated lark. Directed by first-timer Ruben Fleischer, the movie was destined to be a cult classic among hardcore genre fans, the same sort of folks who dug other equally irreverent horror-comedies like Shaun of the Dead. If it triggers a memory at all, it’s probably a faint, distant echo of mild enjoyment: “Oh, right, Zombieland. Yeah, I liked that. Anyway, you want pizza or tacos tonight?”
What a movie like Zombieland should never do is have a sequel. And what it absolutely should never ever do is wait 10 years to have that sequel. It’s not news that Hollywood is throwing zombie franchises at us left and right — and by that, I mean lifeless bits of intellectual property that refuse to die, no matter how many times they’re rebooted and remade for indifferent audiences. But Zombieland: Double Tap is both literally and figuratively a zombie franchise — one that exists to remind us that the original was vaguely amusing back in 2009. To prove this point, the sequel’s brain trust have worked tirelessly to produce a follow-up that does nothing but be nostalgic for the first film’s cultural moment — and then to remind us that it’s long gone.
Double Tap brings back the core cast, Fleischer (who had a big hit last year with Venom) and original screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who were integral to the Deadpool films). Probably because it would be impossible to pretend that the actors aren’t significantly older than they were in the first film, Double Tap takes us to the present, which is 10 years after nerdy Columbus (Eisenberg), macho Tallahassee (Harrelson), sarcastic Wichita (Emma Stone) and her impish sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) first entered our lives as the zombie apocalypse was freshly unfolding. What’s changed since then? Basically, nothing: Columbus and Wichita are now a decade into the relationship they started at the end of Zombieland, Tallahassee has taken Little Rock under his wing like a protective father and there’s talk of a new super-strain of zombie that’s much harder to put down.
But other than that, we’ve got the same sarcastic tone and the same pop-culture fizziness. (Our heroes will meet new survivors, few of whom are particularly memorable.) The undead may have ravaged the world, but Hollywood franchises let nothing slow them down.
All sequels are an act of fan service and an elaborate déjà vu: Give the true believers just enough that’s different this time ‘round, but don’t mess with the formula. Franchises tend to reside in big-enough worlds that there’s potentially room for more expansive stories in the follow-ups. (Plus, they’re such massive successes that a sequel feels inevitable, practically a birthright.) What’s remarkable about Double Tap is that it’s a film that, somehow, feels smaller than the previous installment — it’s a shrug of a shrug.
Here’s a movie that seems to have given no thought to what the planet would be like 10 years after the initial zombie plague struck — or the toll it would take on the survivors after so much running and hiding. The characters aren’t appreciably different, and the banter hasn’t really changed. From a certain perspective, Double Tap could be read as a tragedy about how the human race has become frozen in time after a global catastrophe. But more accurately, I’d just say that everybody’s sleepwalking through this thing.
What makes cult films so precious is that they feel like giddy little secrets — a tiny bit of gold you discovered that only a few people know about. Anybody can be a fan of Avengers: Endgame, but there’s nothing especially hip about pledging allegiance to a movie that makes nearly $3 billion. By comparison, turning your friends on to a bizarre underground psychedelic fantasy-thriller like Mandy is infinitely more satisfying precisely because you can be territorial about it: This is a thing I found that I want to share with you. We’re all partial to certain mainstream fare, but we also have our weird quirks and oddball preferences — they make us unique because they’re ours and ours alone. Also, they feel finite, free of the craven commercial considerations that require that any halfway “major” film leave room for further installments.
Strictly speaking, it’s hard to call Zombieland a proper cult classic. (It made $76 million, after all.) But its scrappy originality and rude tone set it apart — frankly, it felt like a movie that was too cool to worry about being a franchise. Yet no matter how much the cast and crew talk about not wanting to rush Double Tap so that it could be as good as possible, watching the movie is like sitting through the most disheartening contractual obligation ever put on screen. Since the first film, Stone has become a leading lady and an Oscar-winner. (How long ago was Zombieland? Her breakthrough starring vehicle, Easy A, came out the following year.) In the last 10 years, Harrelson has been part of two separate post-apocalyptic franchises: the Hunger Games and War for the Planet of the Apes. (Plus, he and Eisenberg have been busy working on another disposable film franchise together.) And Breslin, among other roles, has spent her time since the first movie starring in another zombie film.
Zombieland came out a year before The Walking Dead, a series that has been on so long that it’s gone from being critically acclaimed and zeitgeist-y to “Wait, is that show still on the air?” There’s no pleasure in having this cast back together because the actors have moved on, and this terrain has been well-culled by plenty of other movies and shows. It’s an awkward time warp: How did we all end up back here?
Nostalgia always plays a part in franchises, inviting us to spend more time with beloved characters. But Double Tap is a grim reminder that the filmmakers got lucky the first time. Zombieland had just enough laughs and just enough inventive action scenes to sustain its slim runtime of 88 minutes. Its flimsiness was appealing, even refreshing. The sequel is where the luck runs out — what was once delightfully dashed-off is now stale, lazy, tired and cynical. It’s almost not the fault of Double Tap — it’s really something inherently flawed about Zombieland and movies of its ilk.
Cult classics are almost, by definition, imperfect little beasts — we adore them not because they’re beautiful, but because they’re unloved strays. Making a sequel saps all that audience goodwill away — the original shines because it was different, not because it wanted to conform. If Zombieland inspired you to be generous, the new movie provokes your anger. Plenty of lame sequels have a hard time justifying their existence — Double Tap may be the first follow-up that makes it hard for me to justify my enjoyment of the original film.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “Well, does Bill Murray show up again?” You know the answer to that — and you can probably guess how you’ll feel when you find out.
Here are three other takeaways from Zombieland: Double Tap… (Note: There will be spoilers.)
#1. These movies exist in a universe where Donald Trump was never president.
Because Double Tap happens 10 years after Zombieland, which took place just a few months after a fictional zombie apocalypse wreaked havoc on the human race, that means the last decade of world events and popular culture never occurred. So, for instance, when Madison (Zoey Deutch), an airhead the crew meet, starts talking about this crazy idea she has for an online service where a total stranger will pick you up in his car and take you somewhere, everyone in the movie thinks she’s nuts — although we realize she’s talking about Uber and Lyft, which don’t exist in their reality. Ha ha, get it?
But that alternate timeline does create one moment of weird pathos. Early on in Double Tap, Columbus and his pals take refuge in the White House, which of course has been empty for years. In one room, though, there’s a Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster of Barack Obama. This made me realize: If the first film takes place in 2009, that means Obama has just started serving his first term as president when everything goes to hell. That also means … Donald Trump was never elected president. In fact, he might actually have turned into a zombie years earlier. This thought made me weirdly happy. Sure, the Zombieland series is set in a nightmarish hellscape, but at least our heroes don’t have to see 45 on TV all the time.
#2. How long would electricity last during a zombie apocalypse?
Something I had a hard time buying in Double Tap is that, a decade after the first zombie uprising, there’s abundant electricity everywhere. Setting aside for a moment that there’s also plenty of water, guns, ammunition, food, gasoline and working vehicles, that particular detail just seemed ridiculous. Wouldn’t the energy grid break down at a certain point? The movie tries to explain this away by having Columbus mention that it still rains a lot, which keeps dams running (which keeps energy flowing), but I decided to do a little more research to discover what the realities would be.
Enter Switch My Business, a U.K. company that “take[s] the hassle out of switching business energy tariffs and to ensure both SMEs [small to mid-size enterprises] and larger corporations are able to access cheap business gas and electricity.” Exciting stuff, I know, but as part of their website, they feature two pieces about the energy repercussions of a zombie apocalypses, one in infograph form and one as a written-through piece. Switch My Business is focusing on the U.K., but according to its estimates, the national grid would be out within a week: “The majority of the country is in darkness, aside from a few pockets of areas that are powered by off-grid renewables.” They project that the last large-scale renewables would fail in about a year.
That’s terrible, but that’s not all. Although nuclear power might be able to sustain the survivors for a little while, Switch My Business warns, “An unattended nuclear plant would last about a week before things started to go wrong. … Once fuel runs out, or the grid goes down, spent nuclear rods will overheat as there will be no electricity to power the pools that cool them down. If this happens, there will be explosions. These will not be nuclear explosions as such, but will cause radioactive waste to be released into the environment. This waste could be carried for miles by the wind, devastating the country.”
Switch My Business advises that survivors should hightail it to Australia, New Zealand or Iceland to be free of contamination. So, in a real-life scenario, a guy like Tallahassee probably isn’t spending his time shooting zombies for fun — he’s running like hell to avoid radiation.
In case you’re wondering, the U.S. would be equally screwed. Apparently, our only hope would be what are called microgrids. As a 2013 National Geographic post explains, “A well-designed microgrid — combining distributed, renewable resources such as solar PV and wind with smart auto-controls and energy storage — would continue to provide reliable power with little human control, keeping the lights on, even under chaotic circumstances.” The article speculates that a well-maintained microgrid would give survivors a power supply for years after the zombies start showing up. But considering how bad America’s infrastructure is, I’d give us about a week before everything went dark.
#3. What’s up with the Twinkies in ‘Double Tap’?
As theaters and audiences gear up for the sequel, a constant refrain has grown louder and louder: Hell yeah, Tallahassee is probably going to be going after more Twinkies.
It’s one of the more memorable recurring bits in Zombieland: Woody Harrelson’s buckaroo character will stop everything he’s doing if he feels like he might be able to get his hands on one of those now-rare Hostess goodies. Dude loves Twinkies and hates Sno Balls, and honestly, same — it’s Tallahassee’s most relatable quality.
So, naturally, people are excited for more Twinkie stanning in Double Tap. In fact, Alamo Drafthouse is offering a Zombieland-themed menu that includes several Twinkie delicacies, including a Doubletap Twinkie Shake. But when I saw the new movie, I was shocked…
Okay, seriously, a spoiler is coming up. You’ve been warned.
…to learn that, unless I fell asleep during Double Tap, there is not a single Twinkie reference in the entire movie. Even Columbus’ preferred beverage, Mountain Dew Code Red, puts in an appearance. (Seriously, how much Code Red is still around 10 years after the first movie? Nothing in Double Tap makes any sense.)
I’m dying to know what happened here: Did Hostess decide they didn’t want the product placement? Did the filmmakers just forget? For a movie this lazy that recycles every other semi-memorable bit from the original, I was flabbergasted: Where the hell are the Twinkies?
I hope some enterprising journalist gets to the bottom of this. I can’t remember anything else about Double Tap, but the Case of the Missing Twinkies is my new obsession.