Last year’s The Purge was a good premise backed up by a boring slog of a movie. The Purge: Anarchy, a sequel delivered just a year later, is a better movie.
I’m not saying it’s a good movie, for it is not. It’s a better movie with a lot of problems.
The film starts mere hours before the annual Purge, a one-day holiday where citizens of the United States are allowed to put their cherished arsenals to use. Yes, murder is legal for a day in this universe, although certain types of explosives are strictly prohibited.
This is sort of the Magnolia or Crash of Purge movies in that we see a lot of story lines involving multiple characters eventually converging. While the first Purge gave us Ethan Hawke and his family moping around inside their house as the annual blood fest took place outside their doors, this one takes the action outside and into the streets. Admittedly, this is a better move.
In one plot thread we get the mysterious Sergeant (Frank Grillo) gathering up some heavy artillery and taking to the streets on Purge night, looking for some revenge on a dude who did him and his family wrong. In another, we get a mother and daughter, Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul), who must leave their apartment after they are attacked. They get close to death via big machine gun when Sergeant, passing by, chooses to interrupt his vengeful mission and lend the ladies a hand.
Another scampering couple (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford) joins the fray, and the band of strangers join together to face off against gangs of masked marauders and, eventually, agents of the very strange government.
The government here is depicted as the New Founding Fathers, a clear jab at the current Tea Party by writer director James DeMonaco. The New Founding Fathers have concocted the Purge as a means to get rid of the poor and elevate the rich. Only the rich can afford the heavy artillery, giving them the upper hand on Purge night by virtue of their wallets.
While the first Purge had far too little going on, this one suffers a bit from overkill. Some of the characters and their boring problems get a little too much screen time. Additionally, everything that happens in this movie feels glaringly obvious. It offers little in the ways of genuine surprises or scares.
The set pieces, which often consist of dark city streets, have the look of art design done on a miniscule budget. Granted, action on a larger scale is welcomed in this franchise, but there’s something very flat about the look of this movie.
When the band of survivors eventually finds themselves being hunted for the amusement of an elite dinner party, the attempts at dark humor fall flat. It’s an interesting idea to have a sequence like this, reminiscent of The Most Dangerous Game, but it comes late in the film and feels like it is an element being shoehorned into the movie.
Grillo (so good in The Grey with Liam Neeson) is the strongest link in the movie, although he overacts a bit in his attempts to elevate the script he’s been given. I also liked Michael K. Williams as Carmelo, leader of an underground force standing up to the New Founding Fathers.
The whole affair feels like a bit of a John Carpenter rip-off, and not the good John Carpenter, but the fair-to-middling John Carpenter. Now, that’s better than watching Ethan Hawke mope around his house and having tense conversations through his front door for an entire film, but it still doesn’t feel fresh.
No doubt, there are more Purge movies on the way. If The Purge: Anarchy is indicative of the franchise improving gradually from movie to movie, then perhaps we will finally get a good Purge somewhere around 2017.