Ah, ‘Maggie’ – the brand new blockbuster that sees Arnold Schwarzenegger travel back through time to the grim and rainy Britain of the 1970s, in order to terminate Mrs. Thatcher, the Baroness of Blood, before she’s able to embark on her baleful reign of baby-eating subjugation.
Um, not quite actually. In common with its leading man’s signature screen series, ‘Maggie’ does indeed cast Schwarzenegger in a dystopian alt-reality; but the drama here is deliberately smaller-scale than what both we and he are used to from a movie sagging under the length of his marquee name.
Schwarzenegger plays Wade Vogel, whose daughter – the eponymous Maggie (Abigail Breslin) – has been infected with the ‘necroambulist’ virus, a slow-acting zombification plague. As evinced by an early scene of Wade driving through a fire-and-wreckage-strewn landscape, the contagion has spread far and wide, slapping that smug look right off civilisation’s fizzog in the process.
Taking Maggie back to the family farm for the final few weeks before her scheduled date with ‘quarantine’, where all the infected are obliged to go when their conditions deteriorate, father and daughter use the time remaining to them to try and come to some kind of terms with the grimly inevitable.
Both principles get their turns to explore the crisis facing their characters. But the truth is this is Breslin’s movie more than it is Schwarzenegger’s (who, in addition to starring, is one of no fewer than 21 producers – yikes!).
The only truly affecting moments come in a relatively late sequence where Maggie is reunited with friends her own age. Similar to Mark Romanek’s ‘Never Let Me Go’, the audience is at last forced to confront the bitter unfairness of a life being cut short before it’s barely had time to begin, complete with all the allusions to real-life illness such a consideration carries with it.
But if that segment packs a bit of emotional biff, then the rest of the film is one long dry slap of sentimental solemnity. Curious really, given the presence of such ostensibly less-than sober components as zombies and the world’s most famous philandering former Mr. Universe.
It feels like director Henry Hobson (making his feature debut) is taking it all very seriously indeed. Although an alternate reading might be that ‘Maggie’ is an all-encompassing work of satire – of a wilting Republican machismo, of the terminal illness subgenre, and perhaps too of those individuals still willing to shell out for a cinema ticket on the basis of Arnie’s name alone.
Which, if it were true, would be rather unfair on the increasingly old boy. For rather than dishing up a greyed and degraded version of an ubermensch persona some 20 years past its sell-by date, Hobson instead embraces and plays upon his star’s advancing years, allowing his natural screen presence to shine through.
Indeed, in another 20 years’ time, when Schwarzenegger is recalled in the same kind of one-dimensional terms we inevitably assign our expired box office champs, wisenheimer college kids will ask “Yeah, but have you seen the one where his daughter’s turning into a zombie?”
Most of their friends will shrug; maybe a few’ll make it their mission to seek out a copy of this fabled oddity. But they’d be advised against sating their curiosity. Because, as is often the case with the cult movie, ‘Maggie’ sounds a good deal more entertaining than it proves in practice.
Maggie is out now in the UK.