Demolition Man (1993)

Directed by Marco Brambilla

Simon Phoenix, a violent criminal cryogenically frozen in 1996, escapes during a parole hearing in 2032 in the utopia of San Angeles. Police are incapable of dealing with his violent ways and turn to his captor, who had also been cryogenically frozen after being wrongfully accused of killing 30 innocent people while apprehending Phoenix.

Demolition Man's central conceit of lampooning east coast Democratic social programmes via a fever dream of an 'ultra-cucked' soy future version of California should, by all rights, wear thin after a while, but there's something about the tenor of Demolition Man that stops it becoming tiring or morally distasteful.

It's difficult to pin down precisely why. Its not just the neo-camp turn by Wesley Snipes or the paratextual casting of Sir Humphrey Appleby, and nor is it the kinda-surprising-for-an-action-film use of callback humour (John Spartan, you are fined one credit for a violation of the Verbal Morality Statute…). Perhaps it's because the movie often seems to be critiquing the very reactionary politics it is espousing on the surface. As in, despite it appearing to support libertarian values on the literal narrative level, due to the absurdly caricatured manner in which these values are presented, there's an uncertainty embedded in the film's underlying political leanings.

Not unrelatedly, from the vantage point of 2023, it's less obvious that Demolition Man is also a satire of the entire 1980s action movie genre altogether (a well-known petri dish of right-wing politics), and Demolition Man frequently winks to its audience with overblown visuals and a self-reflexive system of citations to other movies. However, there were other inclusions that wrenched me out of the narrative for rather different reasons — in particular, the film's suggestion that the adoption of hyper-progressive ideology might lead to the banning of abortion was very jarring in this post-Dobbs world, and this eerie prediction can only be reconciled with the film's political project if you assume some kind of Kabir Chibber (Demolition Man)