Arnold Schwarzenegger tries his hand at drama with “Maggie”

Ever since he left office as the two term governor of California and returned to the acting world, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the film choices of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s slowly gone from being a wise cracking killing machine (sometimes literally) to someone more contemplative of the toll it all takes on a person. To be sure, the movies are almost all throwaway popcorn entertainment regardless, but there’s a definite shift that’s easy to notice (the very talented Matt Singer often writes about this in terms of Schwarzenegger, so I highly recommend reading something of his). This week, there’s another new side of Schwarzenegger on display in Maggie, a zombie drama in which he’s trying to avoid killing for one of the first times in his career.

As a quick plot summation, the film follows a farmer who sees his daughter slowly turning into a zombie. The man, played by Schwarzenegger, doesn’t want to see her succumb to the “disease” after promising his wife that he’d look after her, so he begins a quest to protect her, even as the world is slowly crumbling outside of his farm. Aside from Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin plays his daughter, while other cast members include Joely Richardson. Henry Hobson directs, while the interestingly named John Scott 3 wrote the screenplay. Obviously, it’s a star vehicle for the former governor, but it definitely shows off a new side to him.

While no one is ever going to assume that Schwarzenegger is about to contend for any awards, this does line up with some of his other post politics choices. Maggie has more in common with The Last Stand and Sabotage (and perhaps even his cameos in The Expendables trilogy) than his early outings like Commando or The Running Man. There’s a slight aversion to death in some of those more recent ones, even with a body count. Here though with Maggie, it’s all about preventing a death, which is pretty new. Especially with Schwarzenegger in the lead role, he manages to raise the stakes with his presence alone.

I don’t know that Schwarzenegger is going to be pursuing drama solely going forward, but it’s clear that he has more on his mind now that simple action. He’s still an imposing physical presence, but his age and world weariness of sorts plays in his favor here. He’s a powerful man, but he’s basically unable to help Breslin’s character in any substantial way. You wouldn’t expect Arnold to be the one to effectively play a father struggling with an unthinkable choice, but here we are. I do hope that this isn’t the last time that Schwarzenegger chooses to go in this direction.

Personally, I would love to see him really play up his veteran status in some dark and intense things going forward. One option would be perhaps an almost at retirement age spy, allowing him to be as dangerous as ever, but really at the tail end of his career. Of course, there’s also the possibility that someone like Quentin Tarantino will see fit to give him something really unique and awesome to do. Either way, as long as Schwarzenegger doesn’t dive right back into the throwaway second tier action titles of yore, I’ll be more than happy with whatever the choices to come are.

For now, we have Maggie opening this weekend to really give us a chance to see Schwarzenegger in a new light. Yes, on Friday you can watch him not mow down zombies, but try to care for just one, one that happens to be his offspring. This could have been a mockery of the genre, but Schwarzenegger helps to make this something to look forward to. I really think that both fans of Schwarzenegger and those of you who normally dismiss him can find plenty to like. Maggie isn’t an overly commercial film, but by not embracing overt consumerism, it allows everyone involved to just play. Nothing here is likely to be noticed by Oscar, but in lieu of Academy Awards attention, we have something different here in the early goings of May. Give this one a shot folks…

Be sure to check out Maggie this Friday when it opens in theaters!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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