Now that his first comeback movie has seriously bombed, what's next for Arnold Schwarzenegger?
I'm here to suggest that, in fact, The Last Stand, which opened to slim box office in the U.S. a couple of weeks ago, is actually a step in the right direction for the aging action star. Working for Korean director Kim Jee-woon, he didn't try to come back as the same he-man action-figure that he was in the 1980s and 90s. Though he did go hand-to-hand with villain Eduardo Noriega at the conclusion of The Last Stand, he also made jokes about his age (he's 65, after all) and let younger actors do most of the stunts and heavy-lifting (though he's still obviously a pretty hearty physical specimen).
Still, this is a watershed moment for Schwarzenegger, in terms of his movie career. He obviously doesn't need the money and probably can no longer command the eight-figure salaries he once did. Yet if he makes smart choices and tries to repurpose himself as a movie actor, he could create a new career and a legacy that could easily eclipse the work he did in films prior to his terms as governor of California.
Working with adventurous young directors is a step in the right direction. They can give Schwarzenegger new context, reimagine him in a way that the Hollywood studios never could. If he's really interested in a comeback that will last, why not make himself available to the hottest directors out there -- to say to them, "Look, I realize I am what I am. Now find something unique and interesting for me to do that utilizes that in a new way."
At this point in time, what does Arnold Schwarzenegger mean? To the studios, Arnold is either the Terminator or something close -- or else he's a has-been who should still keep doing what he always did. To the audience that made him a star and has aged with him, he's an old favorite, a physical presence who could be counted on to kick ass, take names and crack wise from time to time. To the audience that rules the box office now, however, he's old hat, a relic whose movies belong to their parents' generation, but who holds no particular place in their hearts or their consciousness, beyond those Terminator movies.
This commentary continues on my website.