Around April Fools’ Day, you have to be careful what you read on the internet: The bigger the proclamation, the more likely it’s a prank. The same is starting to prove true in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. A few years ago, filmgoers thought there might be a Crocodile Dundee reboot on the way, only to discover that the “trailers” for the purported movie were, in fact, an elaborate fake-out that culminated in a Super Bowl ad for Australian tourism. So, on Thursday, when Arnold Schwarzenegger took to social media to announce his next blockbuster was “Coming February 2022,” most people knew it couldn’t be real.
As many sites pointed out, there is almost no chance that Schwarzenegger has, in secret, filmed a big-budget (but super-cheesy-looking) project called Zeus. No, almost certainly it has to be a tie-in for a Super Bowl ad — after all, the Big Game will be taking place February 13th.
But even if you were briefly fooled, you could still laugh at the joke, which is that it’s preposterous that Schwarzenegger would star in a dopey Greek-god movie spectacular. (Adding to the joke, some noted that he actually played Zeus’ son Hercules about a half-century ago.) Who knows what this will be a commercial for, but that poster definitely falls into the category of “fake awful movies that are just plausible enough,” like all the bogus bad family comedies Adam Sandler’s character starred in within the world of Funny People. There isn’t going to be a Zeus, but you could almost imagine Hollywood executives giving the idea some thought.
There’s also something bittersweet about the gag: Is Zeus (which is in no way a real movie) going to be the last actual blockbuster Schwarzenegger ever appears in? That possibility uncomfortably underlines the other reason the poster is clearly a joke: We don’t live in a world where this fake film would even be viable. Turning 75 this summer, Schwarzenegger still has movies coming out, but his days of being a box-office god are very much over. That’s been obvious for a while, of course, but Zeus is saying the quiet part out loud.
It’s been 11 years since Schwarzenegger’s reign as California governor ended, which was meant to segue directly into his Hollywood comeback. Granted, his acting career had been fizzling long before going into politics, but still it was a shock that the superstar who’d been in the Terminator films, True Lies and Total Recall was bowing out.
Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen hasn’t been all that rewarding. I don’t mind the Expendables films, and I’m a lonely defender of Maggie, his somber, change-of-pace post-apocalyptic indie drama, in which he played a grieving father who must cope with the fact that his beloved daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) is slowly transforming into a zombie. But a lot of his post-governor film work felt second-rate — an opportunity to cash in on the nostalgic geri-action film moment. And as for Terminator Genisys and Terminator: Dark Fate, while there was some fleeting appeal in seeing him back as the superpowered android — particularly in Dark Fate as an aged warrior — those sequels mostly just reminded you how good the earlier installments were.
Schwarzenegger’s last major film was Dark Fate, three years ago, and his next project, Kung Fury 2, a martial-arts comedy in which he plays the president, is expected to come out in 2022. Apparently, Triplets will be shot this year, a sequel to 1988’s Twins that pairs him with Danny DeVito and Tracy Morgan. In 2020, Netflix announced a Conan the Barbarian series, although I’m not sure Schwarzenegger has any involvement in that. Like a lot of older former A-listers, he’s mostly relying on uninspired sequels or leaning heavily on his well-established persona. Schwarzenegger is capitalizing on our eternal fondness for his past.
He’s been famous for so long, it’s easy to forget how unlikely his success was. Here was a guy born in Austria who moved to America, not letting his unusual last name or his accent stop him from following his dreams. Before Dwayne Johnson or John Cena made the leap from wrestlers to actors, Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder who managed not just to be an action hero but also a pretty decent comedic presence. For all the xenophobia both then and now, he won over large swaths of the American public. He was cooler than Sylvester Stallone and more imposing than Jean-Claude Van Damme. In an age of larger-than-life action heroes, Schwarzenegger had the most charisma and the best quips — not to mention the best movies. The post-governor slump doesn’t diminish any of that.
Maybe that’s why, as dumb as Zeus looks — even though it’s not even an actual film — it stirs memories of a time when people got excited for an Arnold Schwarzenegger event movie. But it’s been a while since he’s been in one of those. Instead, he finds himself in that unenviable position of being a guy who shows up in okay movies that leave people vaguely disappointed, competing against his earlier self and coming up short. That weakened T-800 he plays in Dark Fate was especially apt — it looked like Schwarzenegger, just a little slower, a little more human. Even the seemingly indestructible cannot defeat the steady march of time. Even Schwarzenegger has been reduced to tweeting a fake movie poster for what is, almost assuredly, a teaser for a commercial.
Things could have ended up worse for him — he could have been a Ted Nugent or Kid Rock type, turning into a frothing-at-the-mouth right-winger screaming anti-vaxx nonsense. Yes, he’s owned up to a past of groping and demeaning women, but he’s also been willing to use his pulpit to condemn the January 6th insurrectionists, demanding they be held accountable for what they tried to do.
To be sure, Schwarzenegger has had a complicated public life, but that silly Zeus tweet is meant to evoke the rosiest period of our relationship with him — the part where he was an awesome movie star and we loved him for it. The truth is, Zeus is probably the last time we’re going to think of him as part of some splashy blockbuster. There will be no new catchphrases, no new incredible action sequences, no new indelible characters. We’ll never find out how he would have been as Zeus. (Probably better than he was as Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin.) It’s always a little poignant when something comes to an end.
There’s a lot of comedy in that tweet, but probably what’s funniest is that, not that long ago, Zeus might have been a film people would have wanted to see. I haven’t really enjoyed him in anything for a while. But when I saw that poster, I realized that we’re coming very soon to a moment when there will be no more Arnold Schwarzenegger pictures. That’s kinda sad. Almost makes me wish Zeus was real. But not that much. I mean, look at that poster. It’s the sort of bad movie the latter-day Schwarzenegger would have wanted to do.