What’s initially startling in Maggie is how utterly normal Arnold Schwarzenegger is. He’s still framed as massive, immoveable, even menacing when staring down a cop antagonizing him. At times, Henry Hobson stages the actor contemplating against barren landscapes, the spirit of Milius’ Conan the Barbarian alive within the body of a humble farmer. Yet, faced with an untenable situation, Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) falters, hesitates. His oldest daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), is zombie-infected, and he has to choose: send her to quarantine or put her down himself when she turns.
Against advice, Wade keeps Maggie at their home with his second wife. It’s a small defiance, though. They follow guidelines, take precautions (sending their youngest children away), play mostly by the rules. Unlike the dystopia of Hobson’s last go-around with zombies, The Last of Us, this pandemic is somewhat managed. Martial law in the nearby Kansas City aside, life is routine as ever. The occasional gas station may be occupied by a ravenous cannibal, but they still operate. Rural teens still sneak out to the reservoirs and party. Talk radio and NPR are still on the air. Phones, even landlines, still operate. Wade and Maggie joke about Mrs. Vogel’s cooking. Beauty and warmth mingle with soul-crushing horror. America’s infrastructure, bureaucratic and occasionally cruel, remains. Wade doesn’t believe he can overcome it, nor does he want to. All he wants is to be a reliable father, protecting Maggie until disease cuts her life short.
Schwarzenegger hones on this need to be rock solid, flipping Wade’s brooding to quiet assurances, wiping away a tear before embracing a distraught Maggie. His scenes with Breslin are fantastic: the mythic action star now a dad who can’t bring himself to pull a trigger. Even when the film cops out his decisions, their weight remains.