Before watching the movie:
I get the sense that the 90s were a rough time for sci-fi movies, especially the early 90s. However, I can’t back that up with anything, and all the examples I can come up with are good.
I was never very interested in this movie as a killer vs. killer in the future action flick, but I’ve recently learned that it makes culture shock jokes about how society has changed, which is an interest of mine. I like to think about how the future will get us wrong, and otherwise how foreign it would probably be.
As an action sci-fi this never stood out. As a sci fi action comedy, Demolition Man might actually be a fun experience.
After watching the movie:
In the near future of 1996, cop John Spartan’s results-oriented style of law enforcement allows him to capture the psychopathic criminal Phoenix, but also gets him blamed for the destruction of a building and death of Phoenix’s hostages, so he is put in cryogenic hibernation for decades, until Phoenix escapes from his parole thawing in 2032. The world of 2032 is so peaceful the police don’t know how to handle lawbreaking more severe than swearing and eating salt, so at history buff Lenina Huxley’s suggestion, Spartan is revived. His cavalier manner scandalizes the police force, but he gets things done, and slowly begins to piece together a deeper plot behind Phoenix’s escape.
It’s harder than I expected to classify this movie. I guess it’s an action film, but there’s a much lower amount of action than I’d expect for one, buried under the story and social commentary. The culture clash drives the movie, but not as much as I expected was made up from jokes about the way the world changes (I found 1996’s L.A. being a burned-out war zone funnier than some of the directions the 2030s went). One thing I’m learning is that few action movies are completely humorless. Still, I wouldn’t say this has enough humor to be called a comedy.
Wesley Snipes’s enthusiastic performance as Phoenix is delightful, and usually the best thing about the film. I read that the producers originally wanted Jean-Claude Van Damme for the role, but I can’t see it being nearly as much fun with him. Sylvester Stallone is similarly well-suited to his role, but not quite as irreplaceable. There are dozens of actors who can play “Dirty Harry in the future”. Sandra Bullock’s naivete comedy also deserves mention.
As I said above, speculating on the future is fun to me. I liked the direction they went with in making it more foreign than just “us with better technology and also less fun”, and I was glad that not all of the jokes had been spoiled. The “three shells” thing got a little old, but then it’s natural to keep coming back to the weirdest thing in your new culture. It’s been well-noted that when they weren’t trying to make a joke, they actually came pretty close to some major developments, like video chatting (even though the technology of the time left them with dark, low-resolution video screens).
The action quotient may have been low, but I’m not one who absolutely needs explosions and gunfire to have fun, and this was quite enjoyable. There’s even a not-quite-unsubtle message along with the spectacle and chase.
Watch this movie: for slightly-less-than-thoughtless destruction. You know, a good time!
Don’t watch this movie: to base your stock market predictions on. Unless you’re already well-invested in Taco Bell.