Mellow greetings, fellow thought criminals!
The most devastating satire about life in 2020 was made nearly 30 years ago. the year was 1993, and some very unfortunate long term problems were starting to make themselves felt. Bill Clinton was now president. Universities were creating program tracks specifically for illiterates And despite having college degrees ourselves, Generation X wasn’t going to be doing anywhere near as well as the Boomers had.
Yes, the 1980s were well and truly over. And along with them the Eighties Actioner Blast Flick. The last of them was Demolition Man.
While there would be a few more sequels staring the original action icons of the Reagan years, the fire had gone out by then. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Van Damme were too old for the physicality that those roles demanded. Sylvester Stallone was himself, 47 when Demolition Man came out. This movie was the last gasp of that genre.
Opening scene is the “Near Future 1996.” Los Angeles looks pretty much like it does today, the whole city is on fire. Police black and whites are Humvees instead of Crown Victorias. Police helicopters are CH- 47s. The LAPD is basically a gendarme that is actively engaged in a street war instead of being too terrified of being caught on video to leave their cars.
We are quickly informed that a criminal named Simon Phoenix has captured a bus with thirty passengers who are now his hostages.
Our hero,John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), is being inserted by helicopter. He banters with the pilots briefly before freaking bungee jumping down onto the top of the building! Since this film was made in 93 there is very little in the way of CGI, ninety percent of the effects are practical.
Sergeant Spartan shoots his way into Phoenix’s presence in the best of Eighties boom-boom tradition. There are plenty of Dutch-angle shots. Slow-motion shooting and lots of fire for some reason.
One thing that I laughed out loud at, was a clearly framed shot of a pack of Marlboros. Considering how much of this film is about mind censorship as dictated by the political/social elite, a lot of ironies were stuffed into that little red and white box.
So, we meet Simon Phoenix as played to the scene-chewing hilt by Wesley Snipes. Basically, he was Black Joker. That is the simplest way to describe the character and Snipes was clearly and obviously having a ball the entire time he was playing him.
Spartan and Phoenix have their first fight and Spartan wins and runs through some more fire carrying Phoenix over his shoulder. Killing him would have been more consistent but then the movie wouldn’t have been able to happen. Regardless, the building gets blown up in the process. And the production company actually blew up a building for that scene. Great stuff!
Like I said, this was an Eighties blast-flick and it had most of the tropes of that period. So naturally, we have the debrief scene between the Angry Police Captain and the Righteous (if rogue) Good Guy Cop.
It turns out this time the police captain had plenty of reason to be angry. Spartan had (apparently) managed to kill all of the hostages in the apprehension of Phoenix.
Hard cut, John Spartan is being incarcerated in the newly opened cryo-prison. Just as a reminder this film was released in 1993 and is supposed to be taking place in 1996.
Anyway, Stallone does a pretty impressive nude scene for a man of 47 while he is being frozen alive. As I said the 80s action stars were getting on in years, and while Stallone looked super buff and cut you, there was something just a bit off about his appearance, something that said there was quite a bit of chemical assistance going on with his physique.
Opening credits roll during a montage scene that indicates the passage of time.
The film picks back up in 2032, and we meet future love interest Officer Lenina Huxley, (the first of many shoutouts to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World). And in the space of just a few sentences, it is terrifyingly obvious that the future is Woke World.
Huxley: I find this lack of stimulus to be truly disappointing, don’t you think?
Warden Smithers: I try not to, my dear. However, you’re young, think all you want!
The dialogue in this film was reasonably funny in 1993 but in 2020 it’s a devastating satire of the world that the University elite wishes to impose on the rest of us. That is my big point about this movie. The world of Demolition Man is what the University elite, the Twitter Mob, and urban rioters want to impose on the rest of us.
Anyway, the brief interaction between Huxley and the cryo prison warden gives a decent little intro to both characters even though one of them won’t be with us much longer.
The somwhat dislikable warden is doing parole hearings and Simon Phoenix’s comes up. Phoenix is a little surprised to discover that he knows the password that will release his restraints but he uses it and kills his way out of the prison.
Huxley arrives at police headquarters and has a brief run-in with her own Angry Police Chief. Apparently, some things never change. She then laments with her friend-zoned- friend about the lack of excitement in their world. He is shocked that she would wish for such a thing.
Suddenly alarms start ringing all over the station. There’s been a murder the first in 22 years. This is followed by a second murder and then a third. All of them at the cryo prison. Thinking quickly Huxley calls up the list of scheduled parole hearings for that day. A now super old version of one of the young cops Spartan was bantering with identifies the culprit instantly, “It’s Phoenix!”
Huxley identifies the car that has most likely been stolen by Phoenix.
Angry Police Chief (played by perennial 90s evil authority figure Bob Gunton (Warden Norton in The Shawshank Redemption)), orders all available units to converge on his location and “protect-serve.” There’s lots of Orwellian newspeak in this script, and it’s one of those things that while only mildly funny its day, is almost skin-crawling now.
Phoenix has no trouble at all tossing around the capture team like rag dolls.
“We’re policemen! We aren’t trained to handle violence!” Again, this is supposed to be a joke but if various city halls get their way then this is indeed the future of police forces across America by 2032.
The decision is reluctantly made to thaw out the cop that brought him in the first place.
I’d long forgotten that Stallone’s first line in 2032 was, “I need a Marlboro.” * Spartan then asks after his wife and daughter. The wife died in an earthquake in 2010 and the movie didn’t really do much of anything with the daughter. Honestly, she should have been cut from the script. Or else made her a presiding judge or something. Still angry with her father for having been such a cowboy-cop he got sent to prison, yet seeing this Brave New World with the same contempt he does. But they just left it dangling in an awkward manner.
Back to the movie. The real villain of the piece makes his appearance and it’s Sir Humphrey Appleby. Okay, actually it’s Raymond Cocteau but Nigel Hawthorne was obviously hired because of his role on Yes, Minister. Cocteau is Sir Humphrey with the brakes off. He is responsible for the world as it is and he is the one that runs it.
This was a film where most of the characters names meant something. Spartan, Phoenix, Huxley, Friendly. However, I’m not certain what Cocteau was supposed to mean since the Right-leaning French playwright is little more than a name to me. Feel free to fill me in, in the comments below.
John Spartan is back in uniform and is having the standard Eighties Buddy Cop problem with authority. Mostly, this killed a little time and gave some exposition. At the end of the scene, Spartan deduces that Phoenix will be heading to a museum because that is the only place you can find a gun.
We get out next action scene and Phoenix shouts, “it’s a brave new world, John!”
On his way out of the museum, Phoenix runs into Doctor Cocteau and discovers that there is somebody he literally can’t kill. Sir Humphrey orders him to get on with his job, which is killing the radical libertarian leader Edgar Friendly.
Spartan runs him off and Cocteau thanks him for saving his life. He then invites him to a formal dinner at…Taco Bell!
Skipping ahead a lot. This film’s middle is very much a muddle.
Phoenix convinces the surprisingly gullible doctor Cocteau that he needs to defrost a crew for him. But not to worry, none of the guys on this list are killers like me.
Huxley and Spartan examine CCTV records of the interaction between Cocteau and Phoenix outside of the museum. Huxley then pulls the rehabilitation programming for Phoenix and discovers that he has been turned into a super terrorist during his time in cryostasis.
Spartan and Huxley then set off to warn Edgar friendly and the Scraps about Phoenix’s impending attack.
We get another 80s action scene with lots of slow motion boom boom and fire. Wesley Snipes escapes again.
Phoenix has his third and final meeting with Doctor Cocteau, Where he manages to bypass his programming by ordering Jesse “the body” Ventura to kill Sir Humphrey.
Last action scene takes place at the cryo prison. Phoenix is getting ready to turn all of the inmates loose but Spartan stops it freezes him and breaks off his now frozen head.
So, does it hold up?
Oh my crap, yes! But not in the way the makers intended. This film isn’t just a biting satire, it sinks its teeth in and chews! If Demolition Man was released today, everyone involved with the production would be blacklisted any theater showing it would be burned to the ground.
The setting and the jokes are chief selling point.
“Bad language, chocolate, gasoline, uneducational toys and anything spicy. Abortion is also illegal, but then again so is pregnancy if you don’t have a licence.”
“You are fined a half credit for violation of the Verbal Morality Statute.”
“How do I use the three seashells?”
“- Taco Bell Patron: What would you say if I called you a brutish fossil, symbolic of a decayed era gratefully forgotten?
– John Spartan: I don’t know… thanks?”
Now, some things haven’t really improved with time. The action scenes are a little slow by modern standards. Hong Kong was only starting to make its impact felt in Hollywood. And the fight scenes are much closer to the film school grammar of the Eighties than what would show up when Neo would moon-walk his way across walls in six years.
And frankly, not all of the jokes work. The running gag with Lenina mispronouncing 20th-century idioms got old – instantly. Twenty-seven years and they haven’t improved with time. Honestly, they reek of being one of Sylvester Stallone’s rewrites, but I don’t know that for certain. I am certain that the same guy who came up with the good jokes didn’t come up with those clinkers.
In conclusion, if you have a copy and you haven’t seen it in years, dig it out and give it a look. You’ll be shocked at how you view it now.
Then be sure to bury it someplace safe afterward.
Okay, be well!
*For the benefit of my younger readers, by 1993 it was long illegal for cigarette manufacturers to advertise on radio and TV. But product placement didn’t count as advertising, so it happened a lot back then.
P.S. Shout out to Critical Drinker for convincing me to dig this one out.