Confused Views: Demolition Man versus Rocky IV

Demolition Man and Rocky IV are both great Sylvester Stallone films. But which is better? There’s only one way to find out…

Social networking is great and all, but I’m not very good at it. I struggle at making friends on Facebook, where apparently you’re not supposed to tag pictures with each individual body part. I sit alone on MySpace for hours, wondering where everyone is. I got kicked off Google + for trying to hula hoop with a circle I wasn’t part of.

On Twitter it’s apparently fine for Justin Bieber fans to say “Eight milion Beliebers can’t be wrong!”, but when I tell them they’ve some way to go before they’ve caught up with the Nazis, I’m “violating terms of usage”.

The Internet is a confusing place. Fortunately for me, I’m cyber-pals with many of the writers from this site, and they’re a net-savvy bunch. Den of Geek’s Music in the Movies columnist Glen Chapman uses his Twitter account (@GlenTChapman) to run an ever-so-ace daily movie showdown.

Each day, he’ll offer us two films and ask followers to vote for which is the best. Last week, he pitched Demolition Man against Rocky IV. This is a showdown too complex to be solved in a single Twitter message. Hence the theme of this column.

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Starting with the start

Of the two films, it’s Demolition Man that starts the strongest. Rocky IV kicks off with a brief recap while Eye Of The Tiger plays, then it mills about for twenty minutes. This is what we refer to in the industry as a beer window. The fun thing about the Rocky IV beer window is that however much beer you’re able to drink, that’s exactly how much you need to be able to enjoy it.

Demolition Man, on the other hand, hits the ground running. It opens on a visual of the Hollywood sign burning, which I’m fairly sure they’ve plucked from my sexual fantasies. Well, the cast members of Two And A Half Men weren’t hanging dead from the flaming letters, so it’s not exactly the same.

Anyway, we’re then treated to a ten-minute spectacle of Sly hunting down Wesley Snipes, which involves a helicopter, slow motion running, clumsy fight scenes, noisy shootouts and giant explosions.

Demolition Man takes an early lead.

Supporting cast, and holy shit, there’s a robot in Rocky IV?

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There’s no point in comparing the lead roles in these films, because Sylvester Stallone versus Sylvester Stallone would be so ka-boom! that it’s unlikely reality could support it, and the universe would most likely implode in on itself.

Demolition Man takes my most feared movie plot, romancing Sandra Bullock, and turns it into one of the film’s strongest assets. Sandra Bullock is the best part of a film in which Sly Stallone and Wesley Snipes blow up almost everything in a series of elaborate fist fights? Shitting hell! How did they do that? Well, according to Rocky IV, they used communist witchcraft, and so need a right good punching. 

That said, making good use of Sandra Bullock doesn’t excuse making any use of Rob Schneider. He’s barely on-screen, but he’s there, and knowing that makes watching Demolition Man an unnerving experience. There’s also a fairly major role in the film, a police officer, whose entire characterization appears to be ‘handsome’.

Rocky IV features a similarly mixed bag in the supporting roles, but it’s difficult to care because there’s a goddamned robot in it. In other words, Demolition Man takes this category too. A robot in Rocky IV? Does not compute. 

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The science of science

Rocky IV has a message for science, and the message is this: I will punch you. It’s a film that sets out to prove that running around in the snow like a real man is better than you fruity scientists, who pansy about with your thinking minds.

Rocky IV treats science like Apollo Creed treats subtlety – it shoots fireworks at it and laughs, before ultimately being punched to death in front of it by an emotionless Soviet incarnation of death. Ivan Drago is supposed to represent cold-hearted science. Indeed, his training sees him using the best equipment, steroids and leotards available. What sort of Frankenstein doctor could possibly be responsible for his hair, though?

The whole thing doesn’t make any sense. Rocky trains in the snow and chops wood with an axe. Should he be allowed to take the axe into the ring? On the one hand that treats the rule of boxing with utter contempt, but on the other hand, USA! USA! USA!

As the hero of the piece, Sly is the low-tech, hard working everyman, except that Rocky owns a goddamned robot, and I’m pretty sure Paulie has been having sex with it. I could forgive once, out of curiosity, but multiple times? Jesus, Paulie.

To be fair, while Rocky IV may shun science, it raises some interesting points about the problems facing aging sports stars. Of course, then it puts this hat on them and never mentions them again:

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Demolition Man serves its science covered in a rich, fictiony sauce. It depicts the future with some brilliantly fun and inventive ideas. While I wasn’t thrilled with the direction that they’d chosen to take sex in (honestly, based on where the world is now, I expected there to be more choking), the visuals in that scene are arguably the best thing about the film, assuming you don’t count fire clouds as a thing.

The sex scene is fucking awesome, and I have been fined one credit for swearing while I say so. So, Demolition Man presses further ahead. 

How bad can he really be? He looks harmless enough.

Simon Phoenix is a real terror. The list of his evil acts includes: killed busload of people, escaped into future using murder, sarcastically translated what someone was saying into Spanish, stole eyeball, beat up police, exploded car, killed more people, threw museum attendant.

Quite simply, Simon wakes up in a peaceful world and he brings violence and murder to it. He has the cops petrified, although some of the credit for that has to go to their computer system. It doesn’t seem that it should be possible to oversell how sinister violent murder is, but having a soulless voice repeatedly chant “Murder Death Kill” is actually more harrowing than the act itself.

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Wesley Snipes plays the role way over the top, which is probably for the best, since it would have been difficult to underplay a character that spends a decent chunk of the runtime wearing dungarees. His look, with denim dungarees over an orange fishnet vest and ultra-silly hair, makes him seem about as intimidating as a particularly passive puppy made of cupcakes and unicorn milk.

Ivan Drago gets something of a leg-up in the villain stakes, because he gets a cool boxing nickname – Death From Above. Frightening enough, but when you consider that he earned the nickname by punching Carl Weathers to death, you’re looking at several opponents with soiled boxing shorts.

Ivan Drago is a man of few words, but when each of those words is able to accurately convey what a massive dick you are, you’ve no need to babble. He also doesn’t emote, although I’m not certain we can write that off as a performance choice.

Of course, Drago is just a boxer, placing him some way behind Phoenix in the villain stakes. For Rocky IV to stand a chance, it was relying on the robot to have a cyber-freak out and start kill-rampaging. Sadly, doesn’t happen, so Demolition Man continues to outdo Rocky IV on every front.

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The “You know what film loses its pace entirely in the middle?” award goes to…

This section is just here to give Rocky IV an easy win. Demolition Man really loses its pace in the middle. This is where much of the comedy happens. There are some real zingers, like when Stallone starts knitting and a child says a swear. There’s also a running gag that involves Sandra Bullock getting phrases ever so slightly wrong, which is so funny it made me want to shoot myself in the face and pour poisonous insects into the wound.

Rocky IV wins this section by sticking with the more conventional cinematic structure of boxing match, consecutive training montages, boxing match. Just like Citizen Kane

The stakes

In Demolition Man, John Spartan is battling to stop Simon from constructing a murderous squad of super-bastards and destroying society. In Rocky IV, Rocky has to defeat Drago or else the Russians will win at sports. So, er, another one for Demolition Man, then.

Just what kind of stupidity facilitates these stakes?

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Apollo Creed gets boxed to death by Ivan Drago, which sets up the clash. Ivan Drago certainly has to take some responsibility for killing Apollo, as he appears to have done it on purpose. However, the referee is partially to blame, too. He should potentially have done some, you know, refereeing, which might have involved disqualifying Drago when he repeatedly punched his opponent after the end-of-round bell or when he attacked the referee. Rocky, too, and the rest of Apollo’s corner might have considered stopping the fight.

“Don’t throw in the towel yet, he’s just about to throw a knockout punch!”

Rocky wants to avenge his pal, but no US boxing commission will sanction the fight, presumably because, based on his disregard for rules in his first fight, there was a real chance that Drago might bring a tank into the ring.

Rocky is left with no choice but to accept an unpaid boxing match on Christmas day in a foreign country. Oh, and he might die. Oh, and he doesn’t tell his family – they have to find out by watching the press conference on television. Dick move, Rock. 

John Spartan is imprisoned in ice for seventy years with no evidence other than the word of a man who is clearly a homicidal maniac. What is he imprisoned for? Not quite being heroic enough.

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The police of the future are unprepared when Simon Phoenix escapes and starts causing havoc, and so they do the only thing they logically can – they molest a dolphin off-screen and never mention it in the film, then they defrost John Spartan.

Given that they’re under the impression Spartan is a cold-blooded killer, this is one of the more outlandish cases of swallowing a spider to catch the fly you’re likely to encounter. Incidentally, I don’t know why they swallowed the fly. Perhaps they’ll die. Points go to Demolition Man. Again. 

Then he music-ed right in my earholes

Rocky IV sounds like a denim jacket. It wins. 

Stallonudity

In Demolition Man I think I may have seen Rocky’s Ball-boas.

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I’m talking about the scene where Sylvester Stallone writhes around naked in a clear gel in a massive glass container. Before any of you cynical Internet people start making your snarky comments, there’s nothing gay about it. Trust me, I’ve rewatched the scene about thirty times just to make sure.

As for how much Stallone we see in Rocky IV, well, look, it’s really snowy in Russia. In fact, with his awesome Rocky beard, this is perhaps the least naked Stallone has ever been.

Yet another win for Demolition Man.

Final Showdown

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The final showdown in Rocky IV is predictable enough. If nothing else, because four Rocky films in and we’ve yet to see a single block. In the main fight, Rocky takes a beating, occasional throwing shots to Drago’s body. Finally, deciding that he can take no more, Rocky decides to punch Drago in the face and finds that, just like in every other Rocky film, this is his opponent’s weakness. At this point I started to suspect that Rocky learned how to box by putting on gloves and then forgetting how to read.

After Rocky wins he should remove Drago’s shorts and show the world his steroid-ravaged genitals (I wish this was my column’s first reference to genital ravaging, but that’s not the world we live in). Instead, he talks to the Russian audience the only way he knows how: incomprehensibly, and in a tone that suggests severe emotional distress.

The Demolition Man final confrontation starts as all of her films should, with Sandra Bullock embarking on a dick kicking frenzy. Then more fights happen, circumstances collude to present Stallone with an opportunity to shatter the frozen head of Wesley Snipes, and he takes it. Even the anti-violence, hyper-polite future society seems to accept this as fair enough. Also, for some reason or another, poor people aren’t poor anymore.

So, another one for Demolition Man. Let’s tally the final scores. 

The overall winner…

…is Rocky IV. I appreciate that this doesn’t make sense, because Demolition Man won almost every category. Rocky IV punches your logical confusion right in its stupid, communist face. Then Apollo Creed’s soul dances at it. Then the robot looks at it.

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That creepy fucking robot.