When the basic concept of Maggie was first released in the press, it felt like a godsend. Since Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned to acting (after an infamously shaky stint as a politician), he’s been landing a lot of roles that attempt to revive his action movies heyday, including Terminator & Extendable sequels as well as the surprisingly-fun throwback Last Stand. Maggie promised to be something new for Arnold entirely. A somber drama in which Arnold plays a family man struggling to keep his life together in the wake of a zombie apocalypse felt like an opportunity for the old dog to learn new tricks, to show his fans a side of his talent that they’ve never seen before. We were finally going to see Arnold in a role far outside his normal mode as a murderous, wise-cracking pile of muscles.
Unfortunately, the means by which Arnold attempts to establish acting chops in Maggie is a huge letdown. Borrowing a page from Ryan Gosling’s book, Schwarzenegger attempts to gain respectability mostly through aggressive, pensive silence. This sometimes works in more eccentrically shot films, but Maggie doesn’t have nearly enough going on visually or thematically to fill the void left by the absence of his usual charisma. The story the movie tells is somberly thin, focusing on Arnold’s caretaking of his teenage daughter as she slowly turns into a flesh-eating zombie. There’s some metaphors at work there about the real life scenario of a parent cairng for their child during a life-ending illness, but that’s about it. The movie grimly coasts along on scenario alone, without much else to say or get excited about along the way.
The messed up part about my reaction here is that I had the exact opposite one with the recent zombie comedy Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. With Wyrmwood, I found myself asking if the world really needed another straight-forward zombie apocalypse movie. With Maggie, I found myself wishing that we did have another straightforward zombie pic. Some of the movie’s best moments were when Arnold was killing zombies in hand-to-hand combat in a public restroom or confronting creepy undead children in the woods. Some of his interactions with his ailing daughter were interesting in concept, but felt more like a starting point for a journey that the film wasn’t interested in going on instead of a complete work. I’m not saying that Arnold should stick to hamming it up in mindless action flicks for the rest of his career (though I do greatly appreciate those); I just don’t think Maggie gave him nearly enough to do in the way of proving that he can do anything else. In fact, I don’t think Maggie gave anyone much of anything.