A super-cop is resurrected to fight a growing threat in a futuristic society. Here’s the question: am I talking about Demolition Man or Robocop?
Trick question: I’m talking about both of them today. Both are ridiculously fun movies about violent crime in the future being stopped by a cop with almost unbeatable strength and cunning. The films question how humanity lives in such a widely-divided society. Cops are woefully unprepared for the level of criminal activity ruling over their respective cities.
They differ in the tone in which they portray our heroes. While Robocop is somber and often muses on what makes a human, Demolition Man never takes itself too seriously and errs on the side of goofy rather than meditative.
The Future of Society
In both films, society deteriorates beyond the recognizable. The streets are run by criminals. It’s no longer safe to roam the city streets and most people don’t leave their houses. Robocop solves this by creating the super-cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) — half man, half machine. Demolition Man implements a series of laws that force society to become peaceful and otherwise unexciting.
Our main characters in both films struggle with their role in these societies. Murphy never feels quite at home after his injuries; he feels he has lost his humanity. John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), after being released from cryosleep, sees a world that has left him behind. His family has since passed away and cops no longer have any violent crime to control, other than Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes).
Both characters learn to integrate and mold the world around them to eventually fit in. Spartan’s actions and behavior convince lawmakers to ease up on some of the more stringent regulations. Murphy is able to reconcile the two sides of himself to a point where he can live satisfied, living as half a human in a human world.
Comedy vs. Drama
Action films can be both comedic and dramatic; most tend to mix the two. Demolition Man leans a little further into the comedy than the drama. It embraces what makes action films so iconic and exaggerates to the nth degree. John Spartan is the apex of machismo; Lt. Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) brings this up when she comments on his swearing habits. As Spartan is engaged in profane conversation with an old friend, Huxley tells a fellow policeman that men of Spartan’s time bond by using vulgar language, as foreign as the concept is to the futuristic society.
Robocop isn’t afraid to make its audience feel dread. The mixture of gore and hopelessness depresses the viewer, making it all the more exciting when we see the hero Robocop. He is the one to bring us out of the dark days of crime into a new age of peace and harmony.
Then there’s Demolition Man, which tells us that all other restaurants were destroyed in the apocalypse and the only one left is Taco Bell. To throw something that ridiculous into a genre that takes itself too seriously is brilliant. It says to the audience, “Look, we know this is stupid and far-fetched, but isn’t it hilarious?”
Hardened, Grizzled Cop
Demolition Man and Robocop use a tired but proven trope in action movies — the veteran policeman returning to the force to help the greener cops defeat an overwhelming threat. Robocop takes its main character and tears him down to nothing, only to build him up to the heroic cop character the audience expects him to be. Demolition Man unfreezes Sylvester Stallone from ice jail while getting some nice shots of his chiseled body.
Despite the differences in how they ended up where they are, both main characters have to learn to adapt to a new environment. Officer Murphy/Robocop has to learn how to exercise restraint against criminals who took everything from him. Though he wishes desperately to terminate with no remorse, he learns how to hold back and uphold the law.
John Spartan has to cope with a world that has become soft. There is no swearing, no violence, no weapons, and everything around is boring as hell. He learns restraint in some cases, such as when he discerns that the people living in the sewers are not the true criminals. However, Spartan also teaches the future society how to let loose and experience life.
The role of women in the film changes from Demolition Man to Robocop. While neither film really devotes much film time to its female counterparts, there is a marked difference between the roles women play in both. For Robocop, our main female character is Officer Lewis (Nancy Allen); though she plays a role in how Murphy ends up becoming Robocop, she isn’t as essential to the plot as some other characters.
In Demolition Man, Huxley is Spartan’s main guide to the new world. She teaches him how the new society functions and befriends him. She even sexually propositions him, though sex in the future is not as thrilling as the sex Spartan knew from the past. It’s her guidance and assistance that aids Spartan in eventually apprehending Simon Phoenix.
The main difference between how women are portrayed in Robocop and Demolition Man is how essential they are to the plot. Officer Lewis’s role in Robocop is not as strong as the main character’s performance and can easily be overshadowed. The story really doesn’t lose much without her character. Huxley brings something to the table for Demolition Man and serves as a guide for our main character. Her role is much more essential to how the story plays out.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Demolition Man and Robocop? Comment down below!
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