Maggie pits Arnold Schwarzenegger against zombies, but not in the way you’d expect. The titular character (Abigail Breslin) is infected, but Wade (Schwarzenegger) isn’t driving into the city to put down the zombie threat, he’s bringing his daughter home before the disease reaches its inhumane conclusion. Protocols are implemented to keep the virus contained to the small midwestern town, but doctors set aside regulations to let Wade spend time with his daughter before she is sent away to the quarantine zone.
The stage of Maggie’s infection is still in its infancy, but any sign of worsening symptoms will get her sent straight to a quarantine area. Wade’s second-wife (Joely Richardson) has sent her children to stay with family outside of town, so it’s just the three of them in a makeshift farmhouse as they wait for inevitable to come. Zombie films often rely on global catastrophe for stakes, but a family awaiting is the kind of tension that all viewers can relate to. Fans hoping to see Arnold buckle down with a shotgun and take on the entire zombie apocalypse might be disappointed, but this picture has ambitions beyond being another run-of-the-mill schlockfest, Maggie serves as an intimate two hour movie about a father losing his daughter amid the zombie apocalypse.
The Walking Dead and Zombieland made zombies popular, but rather than just coasting on a well-regarded premise, newcomers Henry Hobson and John Scott 3 use zombie infection as a stand-in for the mourning of watching loved ones come physically undone by disease. I Am Legend and other zombie flicks tease a cure to keep the depression from fully kicking in, but Maggie has no such solutions up its sleeve. The only outcome for Wade and his daughter is the quarantine area where the infected live among each other until they lose all traces of themselves and are euthanized. The thought of placing his flesh and blood inside a quarantine area is incomprehensible to a parent and Arnold holds his own in conveying that weight. In short, this transition, resembling closer to a character performance than immortal hero, may be his future in acting.
Short of The Expendables, Arnold’s box-office draw has been steadily declining in recent years with his last three pictures grossing less than $30 million domestically ($10 million for Sabotage, $25 million for Escape Plan, and $12 million for The Last Stand). With box-office receipts like that Mr. Schwarzenegger may have realized his days of unironic swagger have passed. Left with no other alternative, he will do something that surprises a good deal of movie fans. Arnold Schwarzenegger acts.
Yes, we live in a world where an Arnold Schwarzenneger performance can bring tears to one’s eyes. “Ahnuld” has always been known for taking down entire armies by himself with a big gun and a quick quip to follow shortly thereafter, but he gives an understated performance by learning less is more. Few ever anticipated that in his late sixties Schwarzenegger would be in a somber film that showcases a range we’ve never seen from the aging icon. His relationship with Abigail Breslin connects authentically, he really gives his all as a loving father who has to watch his child succumb to a frightening disease. There is a tenderness present with Breslin onscreen, but in those quiet moment he also evokes a despair that he may not have been able to pull of 20 years ago. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have more popular portrayals on his filmography, but none have resonated emotionally such as this.