Sylvester Stallone is a name synonymous with action films. Like his friends and sometime co-stars Arnold and Bruce, Sly has a host of late 80s and early 90s action films under his belt that helped define an era in Hollywood. It was a time for muscle-bound alpha males to beat people up, shoot henchmen and generally blow things up in the name of truth, justice and the honour of the everyman. They fought the valiant fight against whichever dystopian Government was persecuting and subjugating its people through nefarious means. Demolition Man is one of Stallone’s less popular films, and one of the few action films not to get a sequel, but that might have more to do with the sudden popularity of his co-stars than its actual quality.
Initial set in the far-off future of 1996, police officer John Spartan (Stallone) is hunting a vicious criminal by the name of Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) but gets framed for a crime he didn’t commit, causing him to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He is sentenced to a new form of cryogenic freezing with a view to rehabilitating him subconsciously. He is awoken 36 years later by rookie cop Lt. Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) in order to recapture the recently released Simon Phoenix. The world that he once knew however, has gone, replaced with a pacifist utopia unaccustomed to his violent and excessive tendencies.
The main pairing of Stallone and Snipes clearly had so much fun filming this, each satirizing aspects of previous action films, while simultaneously letting the audience in on the joke. Even the supporting cast get in on the act with Bullock, very early in her career, shows the kind of comic timing that would see her cast in a slew of romantic comedies further down the road. But this is Stallone and Snipes‘ film and every time they’re on screen together, one-liners are traded, muscles are tensed and things explode. It’s everything you want from an action film. But to paint it as such is doing it a disservice as Demolition Man has much more going on under its hood than you might think.
Demolition Man, coming as it does in 1993, is well past the cheesy action film prime of the late 1980s and much like Last Action Hero is almost a send-up of the action film genre. There are tongue-in-cheek references throughout including a poster of Lethal Weapon 3, not to mention a passing reference to the ‘Schwarzenegger library.’ Demolition Man is aware of its roots and like any good satire it plays along with everything you’d expect from loud explosions to witty one-liners “You didn’t say Simon says!” Yet despite following the path set-out by previous action films, Demolition Man goes a different way. Not so much an all-out action film, but rather a post-modern take on the whole genre. Think about what Scream did for horror and you’re in the right ballpark.
A scintillating main pairing, a stellar supporting cast and a convincing and humorous take on utopia and plenty of action to justify the expense. Demolition Man stands as a shining beacon of fun at a time when the whole genre was fading into the moonlight, prepared to be outshone by comic book films. It’s not the best action film ever, but it does the best impression of one and leaves the audience asking, ‘What is the deal with the three seashells?”