There’s a moment in “Zombieland: Double Tap” when you realize our survivors have been doing this zombie-killing thing a long time.
Wichita (Emma Stone), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) are checking out an abandoned RV when zombies approach. Our survivors click into place like a good game of Tetris — one takes the top of the RV to call out where the zombies are and the other two stay down below to shoot and smash them to death.
At one point, Wichita says the group has gotten good at this. It’s true, they have.
It’s been 10 years since the first "Zombieland," about a ragtag group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse, reminded us to stay limber, wear a seat belt and “nut up or shut up.” The original cast, including Eisenberg, Stone, Harrelson and Abigail Breslin, have all returned for the sequel, in theaters this week.
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Ruben Fleischer returns to direct "Zombieland: Double Tap," which was written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham. The film visits iconic spaces like the White House and Elvis Presley's Graceland as characters adapt to a new, stronger and deadlier zombie called a T-800.
Eisenberg and Fleischer explained in an interview with the American-Statesman on Tuesday that they used the decade between the two movies to their advantage. The T-800s were created to be a heightened threat — if the film's heroes have been around for 10 years, "they have to be pretty expert at killing zombies,” Fleischer said.
Multiple scripts were reviewed before going ahead with the sequel. Everyone was waiting for Reese and Wernick to finish up writing "Deadpool 2," Eisenberg said.
"It was the kind of thing where we were all eager to read a new draft and heartbroken when it didn't feel exactly right, as opposed to feeling lucky that we get to buy more time," Eisenberg said.
To get the band back together, the script had to honor the characters, he said.
"We even had a script that was good, but the actors kind of felt like it wasn't part of the same fabric of the first movie," Eisenberg said. "The stuff that we did away with was the stuff that made the characters feel like they were the jokes rather than making jokes. It's easy with a movie like this to have the characters be the butt of the jokes, because they are kind of eccentric and because it's a comedy. But I think what works better is if the characters are real people with real adult emotions, just in this zany world."
Listen to Fleischer (answering first) and Eisenberg talk getting the gang back together for the sequel:
As zany as the film's world is, the zombie-hunting group's normal human needs and emotions aren't ignored. Stone and Eisenberg's characters try to navigate love in a barren land taken over by the undead. Harrelson's character wonders what's next for him in this dystopia.
Abigail Breslin's character, Little Rock, wanted to travel to a theme park called Pacific Playland in the first "Zombieland." She was a child in that movie; now, both the actor and the character have grown up, and Little Rock wants to meet a guy her age and smoke weed. Little Rock's desires again lead the group on a trip across what's left of the U.S.
New characters met along the way — played by Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson and Luke Wilson — help the group survive and figure out what they want out of life. There are monster trucks, blue suede shoes, doppelgängers, hippies and of course, Columbus’ rules for survival.
From the moment Deutch appears as the Paris Hilton-like Madison, wearing a pink coat with fur trim, she earns full belly laughs. Columbus and Tallahassee discover her in a mall, where she’s been living in a Pinkberry fridge. She says things are “soy cute” and waves her French manicured nails through her long, blonde waves. At one point, Tallahassee wonders if she survived this long in the zombie apocalypse because she has no brain to be eaten. Madison will remind some of the late-2000s fashions they once desperately needed — Juicy Couture tracksuits, a white-and-rainbow Louis Vuitton bag or a Von Dutch hat.
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But Madison holds her own in a movie and world where relationships seem to be so established that there's little room for her, until she finds out where she fits.
“What I love about her, though, is that she defies the stereotype of being a dumb blonde, because she stands up for herself. She’s actually really smart and says unexpected things, which I think dimensionalized her in a really great way,” Fleischer said.
I won't spoil who makes it to the end of the movie, or the absolutely epic and delicious final zombie-killing scene, which will have you nearly screaming in the theater. But you should know I nearly reached for the inhaler in my bag as hordes of zombies flew and fireworks exploded. "Zombieland: Double Tap" has one of the most satisfying endings to a movie I've seen in awhile.
Though watching Harrelson crush a zombie's skull and scrape the gooey blood off his boot is a freaking delight, "Double Tap" also will have you thinking about your family. At the end of the killing and stabbing and hitting and running to survive, home is about the people around you.
Zombies "are not really the primary part of the movie," Eisenberg said. "It's the vehicle to get us into the movie, and then it's a family comedy."
Eisenberg had Austin on his mind at a screening Monday night at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. He said he thought Austinites would especially enjoy this sequel. Because of the fact that Eisenberg's character was a University of Texas student when the zombie apocalypse began?
Listen to Eisenberg explain why he thinks Austin audiences will appreciate the movie:
"Austin I think of as a city that loves anything that's kind of countercultural. They also like inside references to things that are special to them," he said.
As for whether the "Zombieland" crew will return another 10 years from now: “That’s the intention,” Fleischer said.
Also, make sure to stay through the end of the credits.