Last year’s The Purge was a boring slog of a movie that wasted a good premise. The Purge: Anarchy, the sequel, is a better movie. But I’m not saying it’s good: While it’s better, it still has a lot of problems.
The film starts mere hours before the annual Purge, a one-day holiday during which 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 film is sort of like Magnolia or Crash in the sense that various story lines involving multiple characters eventually converge. While the first Purge gave us Ethan Hawke and his family moping around inside their house as the annual blood fest took place, this film takes the action outside and into the streets. This is a good move.
In one plot thread, we see the mysterious Sergeant (Frank Grillo) gathering up some heavy artillery and taking to the streets on Purge night. He’s looking for some revenge on a dude who did him and his family wrong. In another, we get a mother and daughter, Eva and Liz (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul), who must leave their apartment after they are attacked. They get close to death when Sergeant, who happens to be passing by, chooses to interrupt his vengeful mission and lend the ladies a hand.
Meanwhile, a scampering couple (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford) joins the fray. The band of strangers joins 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 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, so the government has given the rich the upper hand on Purge night.
While the first Purge had far too little going on, this one suffers from overkill: Some of the characters and their boring problems get a little too much screen time. Also, everything that happens feels glaringly obvious; there are few surprises or scares. The set pieces, which often consist of dark city streets, look like they were designed on a miniscule budget.
When the survivors eventually find themselves being hunted for amusement by people from an elite dinner party, 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 and feels shoehorned into the movie.
Grillo (so good in The Grey with Liam Neeson) is the strongest link, although he overacts a bit in his attempts to elevate the script. I also liked Michael K. Williams as Carmelo, leader of an underground force that’s 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 John Carpenter who turned in fair-to-middling movies. Yes, this is all better than watching Ethan Hawke mope around his house, 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’s gradual improvement from movie to movie, perhaps we will finally get a good Purge film somewhere around 2017.
The Purge: Anarchy is playing at theaters across the valley.