Only a few weeks following his departure from office, action superstar-turned-govenor Arnold Schwarzenegger surprised fans by announcing his plan to return to cinema. His first couple roles are exactly what you’d expect — and for many, what you wanted — from Arnold. They are larger than life, action super-films. Stars, explosions, muscles, high death counts, ludicrous dialogue; post-modern action cinema for a post-modern age. It wasn’t until this year with Maggie, however, that Arnold got to sink his teeth into something really different.
Despite having appeared in over 50 roles, Arnold has never really been considered a great actor. He’s always been more a presence or a force. If you go back to his first roles like Hercules in New York, it is hard to imagine why he was continually given chances to flex his acting muscles (pun somewhat intended). But he was, and along the way he did make vast improvements. As of today, he has appeared in action films, comedies, dramas, you name it; he been able to kind of do it all. Still, Maggie is without a doubt Arnold’s most unique role. It is not hard to see why the film has received so much attention; Arnold really does given quite possibility the role of his entire career.
Maggie has been floating around Hollywood for a few years. In 2011, John Scott 3’s script landed on THE BLACK LIST, which are the best, “hot” unproduced scripts — to put it into context, the top THE BLACK LIST script that year was The Imitation Game. When Arnold was looking for prospective films that same year, he came across Scott’s script and saw in it his next project. The story is pretty simple and is notably a charming twist on an otherwise burned out zombie subgenre. A young girl, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), is infected with a virus that slowly turns its victims into zombies. Her father, Wade (Schwarzenegger), is able to bypass hospital protocol through a personal connection, granting him the chance to be with his daughter for her remaining days. He drives her from the metropolis back into the drab, desolate, and dilapidated fields to their quaint home Midwestern hime. The rest of the film plays out in dramatic fashion, pitting their relationship against the disease.
As many will note, the film could be argued to misuse its greatest asset. It is clear that the intention was far from that of an action film or even really a horror film, but many will bemoan about the waste of Arnold’s physical presence. With that said, if you can accept this, the film does have its charm and the lack of action is really the least of its problems. Where the film really fails is in the representation of Wade and Maggie’s relationship. At the core of the film lies the depiction of a father and daughter torn apart. Yet John Scott 3 and director Henry Hobson have the two spend most of the film separate from each other. Perhaps this can be a further comment on their estrangement, but it fails to emotionally resonate with the potential of the source material. While Hobson is a proficient visual director — capturing an efficient coldness in the Midwest — he seems to struggle with the characters on a deeper level. The film, thus, plays out very much on the surface. Some of the CGI is effective but the film goes overboard on color correction and effects, giving the film a strong artificial quality. The attempt, here, is to desaturate the image so that there is a constant sense of dread, death. Really all that is achieved in the end is a flat image that is severely light on contrast.
There are implications of something greater than its core, a comment on society, environmentalism, etc, but these implications are nothing more than just that in Hobson’s hands. In the end, Maggie is not much more than a strong addition to Arnold’s canon. Arnold carries the film, and is near the only thing about it that is without fault. It shows that he has real talent and a promise for his future roles. While Breslin has been fantastic in the past, her role in Maggie feels limited, resulting in an uneven and, at times, obnoxious performance. Maggie is worth seeing — especially for those Arnold fans out there — but viewers need to come to the film knowing what to expect. If you thought that you were getting a zombie-ass-kicking-Schwarzenegger think again. Instead, this is a quiet, damaged, but moving performance by Arnold; Simply one of his best.
Maggie is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and VOD via Lionsgate