During one of Terminator Genisys 's many stabs at humour (besides its title), Arnold Schwarzenegger's battered cyborg turns to his human companions, who are increasingly doubtful of their robot buddy's ability to keep them safe from more effective killing machines, and mumbles that he's "old, but not obsolete."
It's an obvious dig at the 67-year-old's incongruous role as an eternal gunslinger, but also an apt summation of a career in twilight. As he enters his seventh decade, everyone's favourite T-800 is struggling mightily with the idea of becoming the last action hero.
After exiting politics in 2011, Schwarzenegger had little choice but to return to the movies – his underwhelming stint in the California governor's office, combined with a sleazy affair (even by affair standards), meant that few would remember him fondly had he simply faded out of public view then and there.
With a legacy to secure, Schwarzenegger had two choices: pick up where he left off in the blockbuster realm, no matter whether audiences actually yearned for such a thing; or take a more calculated detour toward character acting, where his weathered features would lend an authentic air of world-weariness and experience.
Unfortunately, for both Schwarzenegger and audiences, he crafted a broad hybrid of the two. And like the hopeless humans in his own Terminator movies, he still hasn't figured out how to right the course of history.
His first post-public servant role was in 2010's The Expendables, a high-camp nostalgia algorithm of a movie that would have disappeared into the IMDb ether had it not been for both his and Bruce Willis's sly cameos. Together with Sylvester Stallone, the, um, brains behind the Expendables franchise, the three onetime Planet Hollywood partners joined forces for a few brief minutes of tough-guy banter and winks so pointed that you could feel Stallone ribbing you in the stomach, whispering, "Get it?"
If that was all Schwarzenegger intended to offer as a nod to his action roots, audiences would have been grateful for the final tip of the hat. Instead, Schwarzenegger took the mild enthusiasm as a sign to double down, kicking off a five-year string of retro-action schlock that would have been fine for Dolph Lundgren or Jean-Claude Van Damme in their prime, but looked increasingly silly for a onetime icon such as himself.
The Expendables 2, The Last Stand, Escape Plan, Sabotage, The Expendables 3: Each brought diminished returns, both critically speaking and at the box office. In his heyday, even a mild Schwarzenegger entry such as Eraser could be relied upon to make $100-million (U.S.)-plus. Now, the likes of Sabotage (which didn't even earn the privilege of opening in Canadian theatres) had to scratch and claw its way to earn just $10-million.
Perhaps finally wise as to where this was all heading, Schwarzenegger flirted with more low-key projects, including Maggie, an indie that, while focused on a zombie outbreak, found the actor only fighting back tears as his daughter succumbed to a George Romero-like virus.
Maggie was not the best film in Schwarzenegger's career or even the best horror of this spring, but it showcased a side of the actor that audiences have never seen before. For that alone, it was a revelation. After decades of either blowing people up – or playing on that persona for laughs in Jingle All the Way and Kindergarten Cop – here was Schwarzenegger as a full-on dramatic actor, no accessories included.
Maggie evidently wasn't enough to sate the actor. Besides his return to Terminator's familiar killing fields, Schwarzenegger is planning a second sequel to Conan the Barbarian, as well as a followup to Twins called, yes, Triplets.
If the actor figures that the only path to immortality is by reliving the past, then he's well on his way. For the rest of us, here's hoping the future is brighter than any one that Terminator has to offer.