According to the box office totals from last weekend, The Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzenegger's first starring role since his stint as the Governor of California, has performed below expectations. I won't go as far as to call it an outright flop--after all, films like this can be quite lucrative overseas and in the home video market--but it was handily beaten at the box office by a ghost movie, a gangster movie, a film noir movie, a Quentin Tarantino movie, a musical, and a godawful Marlon Wayans comedy. For a one-time king of action movies, this could hardly be called a "comeback". With such a dubious return to acting, Schwarzenegger has recently announced his involvement in the upcoming Terminator 5, a move that he apparently feels will better help to restore his acting career.
I understand the logic here: A familiar name like Schwarzenegger wasn't enough to promote The Last Stand, so combining a familiar name with a familiar franchise should logically do better. It’s Hollywood logic, and I think it’s a horrible idea. I've written before about how it's a mistake to regard Terminator as Schwarzenegger's franchise (click here to read that particular rant), so I think that linking the next movie's production to a washed-up action star's campaign to become a box office champ once again is going to be a disaster. Remember, Schwarzenegger thought that The Governator, a cartoon about Schwarzenegger playing himself becoming a superhero, was a guaranteed comeback vehicle too. He was also willing to write and promote a tell-all book about his extra-marital exploits--less than two years after he split from his wife--as a way of staying in the public eye.
But another thing to consider here is that Schwarzenegger's acting career, for the most part, was built on a shtick--a goofy Austrian bodybuilder shtick. People didn't watch films like Commando, Red Heat or Twins for their plots--they went to see these films because a goofy Austrian bodybuilder they liked was in them. I would even argue that Terminator 2, the most profitable film in that series, achieved its popularity because Schwarzenegger's shtick still appealed to large audiences at that time. Yet in the years since Schwarzenegger's acting career faltered and first ended, ask yourself this: When was the last time an action movie star was able to keep a career going based only on shtick?
The problems here are twofold: Not only is the Terminator franchise all too capable of telling great stories without anything remotely resembling Schwarzenegger at its center (case in point: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series), but the action-adventure genre has moved on from the era when big muscles, big gimmicks, big stunts and big budgets were all you needed to make a name for yourself. Maybe this was because of the import of Hong Kong action movies during the last two decades, or that more talented writers, directors and actors have entered the genre with increasing frequency. It could also be that the influence of filmmakers such as Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez has encouraged the genre to embrace its pulpy, grindhouse roots, which in turn have produced action movies that are grittier, smarter and wilder than their over-muscled Reagan era counterparts. With that in mind, it is quite fitting that 2010's Predators, the most recent sequel to Schwarzenegger's 1987 movie Predator, was produced by Rodriguez.
I can't begrudge the action genre's influence on the sci-fi genre, because I have a feeling that many sci-fi films wouldn't have been made at all if there weren't components of action and adventure in their scripts. Yet if Terminator is going to continue as an action sci-fi franchise, it needs to remove Schwarzenegger from its production line. It won't matter what new kinds of killer robots the next sequel will create or what kind of ground-breaking special effects it will use to bring them to life; Schwarzenegger has become the obsolete model of action filmmaking, and he doesn't have the talent or creativity within himself to change that.
"Alas, poor Arnold! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of
infinite ego, of most excellent biceps ...."