Earlier this year Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he was back, cue people running for cover and bad guys bracing themselves for a good hiding. Back, bigger and most saliently more wobbly than ever, he soon lined up a veritable firing range of new projects to helm, star in and overall just carry to box office success on his broadest of shoulders. But at the ripe old age of 63 and after a prolonged incubation period for his ever growing cliché, how much his shoulders can take is definitely up for debate.
Always more content when punching dreadlocked aliens, physical manifestations of the antichrist and pretty much everyone to death than when using ‘ideas’, ‘rhetoric’ and ‘any semblance of intelligence’ to get things done, it did indeed seem strange when he was elected Governor of California in 2003. After slowly departing into his tenure in politics through a slew of tired and mechanically deficient star vehicles (ending with the abject tedium of Terminator 3) he disappeared from our screens almost completely. For eight years he subsisted upon minor roles, meagre cameos and his estimated $200 million fortune until his political career ended and his personal life collapsed amongst allegations of extra-marital affairs and children.
Now if there is one thing that can be said for good ol’ Arnie it’s that he can cheat on his wife with the best of them and as he attempted to furnish his transition back onto the big screen the proverbial hit the fan and as of May the 20th his return has been put on hold. But this is most definitely not the end. With movie bosses offering up their money, reputation and most probably daughters to the altar of Arnie in order to bag his first role back from the Republican wilderness, the lure of $40 million for example to do two more Terminator movies may be too tempting to turn down.
He’s been linked to Antoine Fuqua’s new project The Tomb, Brad Furman’s Cry Macho and of course Justin (Fast and the Furious 5) Lin’s aforementioned reboot of the role that made Schwarzenegger a household name. He can go one of two ways with his comeback therefore, the easy or the hard, and it’s difficult to see whether either will be successful.
The easy would be to do the whole “I’ll be back” schtick again and hope that it sticks, but at 63 and with the franchise on a two flop losing streak is this a realistic prospect? Also as much as I dislike James Cameron as a person, one has to admit that with T2 at least (if not with The Terminator itself) he did a sterling job. Lin just isn’t in the same league. A reboot or a couple more sequels just seems like a heavily misjudged marketing decision. But sure enough if Arnie does choose to go down the path most marketed he is guaranteed to make enough money to ease the pain of a creative, if not commercial, failure.
The way he’s been talking recently however seems to indicate otherwise. In Cry Macho for example Schwarzenegger is slated to play a horse trainer who must bring his estranged son back from Mexico. Reinventing himself for such physically tame and emotionally charged fare will be a tough task though as everyone’s favourite Austrian bodybuilder has two huge obstacles to surmount in the pursuit of a more legitimately artistic late stage career. Firstly (and this is about as indisputable as subjective film criticism can get) Arnie cannot act. Whilst acting no-marks like Adam Sandler have shown glimmers of talent amongst all of the hackneyed hokum and abjectly serviceable box-office fodder (his moment coming in 2002 with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love), Arnie has never shown as much as a twinkle. He glided through his movie career with nothing more than muscles, well chosen projects and a precision crafted cliché to which the likes of Steven Seagal and Jason Statham can only aspire.
Aside from the limitations of his acting skill, Schwarzenegger’s clichéd persona is the second reason why a sudden leap into the dramatic would be fraught with difficulty. After twenty years of careful cultivation and an eight year breathing space for it to stew and mature, his action hero facade seems almost insurmountable. To put it one way, he was never in the running for Robert Redford’s role in The Horse Whisperer, and that’s not because Redford was directing. Won’t this surely extend to his sure-fire, no doubt, ace-in-the-hole, box-office gold in the form of a Schwarzenegger lead Terminator sequel though? If he were to don the leather jacket after so long, every time he opens his mouth his oft imitated and forever identifiable Arnie drawl would come crashing into the sound mix like a freight train of 80’s nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, a campy, knowing reboot could be entertaining, but I don’t think it will be anything but a phoned in cash-in.
Although 2006’s Rocky Balboa showed how a well judged return can work wonders, Rocky was never so much an iconic character than an integral part of an iconic film. J.J. Abrams’ recent Star Trek showed how franchise resurrections can (and in The Terminators’ case I believe should) be done. The Terminator films were a product of their time and Arnie as the Terminator itself came to be synonymous with an era of cinema that has long since passed. Any reboot would need to leave the past behind and sever all its pop culture ties to the original. Maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger’s on-screen guise is similarly trapped in the past and barring an unlikely and possibly entirely unfeasible reinvention of himself, I think his return to the silver screen is unfortunately doomed to failure.