1 of 5 | Arnold Schwarzenegger sits with his dog in "Arnold." Photo courtesy of Netflix
LOS ANGELES, June 5 (UPI) -- 1977's Pumping Iron still contains Arnold Schwarzenegger's most charismatic performance, as himself. So the Netflix docuseries Arnold, premiering Wednesday, has a lot to live up to.
Fortunately, a lot has happened for Schwarzenegger since 1977. The three-hour series covers Schwarzenegger's bodybuilding, movie and political career in three parts.
Arnold still begins with bodybuilding. Even though it covers a lot of the same ground as Pumping Iron, the story of Schwarzenegger's rise in a competitive sport remains compelling.
Schwarzenegger is telling a lot of the stories from his autobiography, Total Recall, but even more than in an audiobook, you see Schwarzenegger tell it. He is still charismatic. There's a reason he became a star.
The bodybuilding story is also motivational, something that also served him well later in the political section. Schwarzenegger's proactive ambition is still contagious and inspiring.
A bodybuilder re-enacts some of Schwarzenegger's workouts, contrasted with scenes of Schwarzenegger working out in his own gym now, at age 75.
Director Lesley Chilcott's series also interviews Schwarzenegger's childhood friends and other bodybuilders. They are further added value content on top of the autobiography. Chilcott even spoke to Schwarzenegger's ex-girlfriend Barbara Outland Baker.
Schwarzenegger addresses steroid use in his bodybuilding days more than expected, which is to say he mentions it at all. Later, Schwarzenegger addresses other elephants in the room such as the son he fathered with the household maid.
That those subjects are included at all is respectable. It can't be easy to talk about, let alone admitting his culpability, but Schwarzenegger allows the series to be more than a hagiography.
Back to Part 2 though, about Schwarzenegger's movie career. While this covered the highlights from Conan and Terminator to True Lies and Batman & Robin, there are some treats for even the most thorough Arnold fan.
Chilcott includes some of Schwarzenegger's original audio from Hercules In New York which was ultimately dubbed over.
Co-stars and directors speak about Schwarzenegger, again broadening the perspective from his autobiography. That includes the late Ivan Reitman as well as James Cameron, Linda Hamilton, Jamie Lee Curtis and more.
They need to be there to explain how Schwarzenegger's career happened from the other side. Most notably, the series gives Sylvester Stallone ample time to explain his point of view on their '80s rivalry.
Schwarzengger remains the ultimate hype man. He calls "I'll be back" the most quoted line in movie history. It's big, but "Here's lookin' at you, kid" and "May The Force be with you" might top it.
Schwarzenegger knows he's "on" though. He describes it as the Austrian concept of schmäh, or B.S.
The film career section also includes how Schwarzenegger met and romanced Maria Shriver. When he talks about their romance now, it's bittersweet because he's alone and they're not together anymore.
In Part 3, Schwarzenegger is honest about his political strategy for the recall campaign and debates. As the series catches up to the present, Schwarzenegger copes with his body aging.
He no longer sees the sculpted shape he worked on in the mirror, despite having never slacked off on weight lifting. That's also life. At a certain point, the body takes its natural course.
Schwarzenegger hasn't lost his sense of showmanship since Pumping Iron. His accomplishments and regrets have grown more complex, making Arnold a more mature look at his life.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.