A few weeks ago, as I was on the brink of polishing off a bottle of cheap red wine, halfway through a foggy viewing of Marc Foster’s World War Z, I made the unexpected decision to purchase the novel upon which that movie is based. “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War,” written by a man named Max Brooks (who just so happens to be the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft) reads like an encyclopaedia of the zombie lore that has expanded in our cultural awareness over the past century or so.
My purchase was entirely fuelled by an altered state of consciousness. I’m not explicitly interested in zombies and a brief skim of the blurb gave me the impression that it might be the sort of populist pulp that usually doesn’t attract me. I started reading Brook’s book after it arrived in the mail this morning. For what it’s worth, so far, it’s better than I expected. Tonight, by sheer coincidence, I went to see Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland: Double Tap.
Was it coincidence, though, or an understandable synchronism as a result of the sheer volume of zombie material out there? Brooks’ novel was released in 2006, three whole years before the original Zombieland, which was also directed by Fleischer. Though the term ‘zombie’ has been around since 1810, when Robert Southey mentioned it in his book “History of Brazil”, and zombies have been present in cinema since Victor Halperin’s 1930 White Zombie, the release of AMCs The Walking Dead in 2010 pushed popular cultural enthusiasm for the walking dead to unprecedented heights.
There has been an adaptation of Brooks’ novel in the years between the two Zombieland films. There has also been a film released called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (the joke starts and ends with the title). Within the space of this month happening right now, three zombie comedies are being released in cinemas (that’s Zombieland: Double Tap, Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die and Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters).
Fleischer’s sequel begins ten years after the events of the first film. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have settled into something that resembles family life as much as anything could in a world overrun by the walking dead. But when Little Rock, the youngest of the quartet, begins to crave the company of people her own age and sets off on the road, the others are forced to abandon their domesticated lifestyle in order to ensure her safety.
The original Zombieland felt fresh because it was. There was an energy to the film that has subsequently been aped countless times. That Zombieland: Double Tap doesn’t share that freshness isn’t surprising considering that proof of the weary familiarity of the zombie film is immediately evident thanks to the existence of posters for Jarmusch and Forsythe’s films in cinemas playing Fleischer’s.
Zombieland: Double Tap isn’t a film that inspires much consideration. It is the sort of movie that engenders expectations from fans and fulfils those expectations by achieving success in only three criteria. Is the film boring? Is the film funny? Are there zombies? The answer to the first of those questions is no and it is yes to the second two. In that regard, Zombieland: Double Tap is a success. It is certainly a more accomplished piece of entertainment than most products branded as such in multiplexes.
There may be a fourth question, depending on your attitude toward the current climate of mainstream cinema. Is there a place for a film like Zombieland: Double Tap, which doesn’t improve upon its predecessor but merely adheres to its accomplishments, a decade on? Fleischer does not make a compelling enough argument for his film to exist. There’s certainly nothing as radiant as the Bill Murray cameo from the original. Double Tap is more Zombieland, for better or for worse.