For all anyone knew, once Arnold Schwarzenegger left the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento he might retire into a quiet private life. It’s nice that he’s kept busy on the big screen. First with “The Expendables” and now with “The Last Stand.” “The Expendables” movies are funny, broadly self-aware, and our real heir to the old Rat Pack movies in a way the George Clooney “Ocean’s” movies aren’t. “The Last Stand” has Arnold back as the undisputed star as a hero cop saving a town from marauders. We think it likely that a man as ambitious as Arnold isn’t going to be content to just keep spinning out “Arnold movies” for the steady money and the pleasure of being on set. To do that would frankly be just another kind of retirement. Just because he’s going back to acting doesn’t mean he has to go backward. One of the best ways to kick off a new phase to Arnold’s career might be to have him play a first-rate villain.
Of course, he’s played the heavy before. We’re talking about the Terminator, after all. But as great as the Terminator was, that’s not a likely path for a man now decades away from his imposing, Mr. Universe physical prime. That Arnold didn’t have to speak. Instead, Arnold might try to find his inner Hannibal Lector, choosing a script as much for its sharp lines as for its shrapnel.
The great Arnold villain wouldn’t be a more verbal Terminator. He might be built instead on Conan, played a shade or two darker. Conan remains perhaps the only character Arnold has played who he seems to respect almost as much as he respects his own screen persona. In most of his movies there is a part of Arnold that is always winking at the audience. He tends to turn off that persona when he’s Conan, though the further the series goes the less he attempts to play someone other than himself. Conan doesn’t quip “Stick around!” when he nails his foe to a wall. Let Arnold use Conan as his “actor’s mark” to help him find his bearings.
I liked Arnold’s Mr. Freeze, though it wasn’t the highlight of that awful movie – that status belongs to Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy. Arnold knocked off a good, silly comic performance; he can turn a fine comic performance in his sleep, or even as a guest on Letterman or Leno. But the role was too comic, in a movie too cartoony, to rank as truly villainous.
What Arnold was not, in any way, was the Victor Freeze with whom Batman fans have become familiar. That character combines menace and vulnerability in a way that just refuses to shout out “Arnold!” A megalomaniacal Arnold, yes. An evil genius Arnold, yes. A suave, refined Arnold – Yes! A wounded, soulful Arnold? Not seeing it. Leave wounded and soulful to Stallone.
If Arnold’s great villain role does come from Genre: Comic Book Supervillain, his best move might be to hold out for “Man of Steel” III or IV, and play Superman’s true archenemy – the intergalactic death god, Darkseid. Almost no matter what happens in the intervening years of Arnold’s screen comeback, people will line up to see Arnold pontificating grandiloquently in between toe-to-toe brawls with Superman.
But it needn’t be anything so outlandish. The best bad guys come from more realistic films. You get a hundred scripts like “The Last Stand” every day. Next time, think about taking the main villain’s role. It worked with “The Terminator.”
By Todd Jackson