The 1990s presented a turbulent time. Despite promises of a Utopian future, people hung on to the cynicism of the 1980s, which said that The System was out of control and would eventually dominate us in dystopian ways. Regrettably, these turned out to be true.
In the midst of this chaos, one movie aspired to criticize the ideal that the coming pacifism would make everything fine, and it borrowed from the 1930s to make it compelling. Adopting themes from Brave New World (1932), Demotion Man made the case that Utopianism was crazy.
The film begins with officer John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) chasing down raging psychopath Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) but becoming ensnared by legal troubles. Fast forward thirty-six years, and both participants are frozen in cybernetic reconditioning.
For reasons unknown — how could something like this happen in Utopia? — Phoenix becomes unfrozen and begins raging across the benevolent future. The police of the time, unsure of what to do, also unfreeze Spartan, and an old-school violent confrontation begins.
The genius of this movie shows us a future time of the Clinton era: all violence, excess, and hedonism have been abolished, replaced by a positive and pacifistic time where people speak in politically correct code.
Officer Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) finds herself bored in this time of no crime and utterly banal, inhuman existence, and welcomes the return of Spartan. He shocks her with his animalistic crudity and essentialist realism that clashes with the ideological purity of her time.
As the battle unfolds, it becomes clear that it is judgment on the “perfect” future. Can humanity survive in an environment of managerial safety, or must it rage in order to break free from the ever-encroaching fingers of a human desire for safety?
Balancing the feral extremity of the past with the sterile conformity of the future, the plot unfolds with the usual mayhem and slaughter we expect from a Stallone movie, but also makes a solid point that perhaps human intentions are flawed and giving them absolute power makes them more so.