What would you do during an annual 12-hour period in which all crime is legal?
As a premise, this is such an interesting jumping off point—or at least it should be in the right person’s hands. For two straight movies, writer/director James DeMonaco has missed the mark. The Purge was an abject disaster that almost took pleasure in wasting a great cast (notably Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey) and a promising idea with the events unfolding solely within one family’s house.
However, at least DeMonaco listened to and addressed the criticisms of the first movie because The Purge: Anarchy is the complete inverse with several stories intertwining in the inner city of Los Angeles. Exactly a year after the original, The Purge: Anarchy switches its primary focus from the rich to the poor. While it’s interesting to delve into the psyche of how a nation deals with this period of consequence-free crime spree, the heavy-handed nature of the rich versus poor dynamic reveals DeMonaco’s shortcomings.
Apparently, the only crime that people are interested in committing is murder. The Purge: Anarchy isn’t so much about anarchy as it is random, roving groups of marauders seeking to quench their thirst for blood. Who becomes the easiest target? The poor, of course. The rich can afford expensive security systems for protection (as showcased in the first film) while the poor must simply try to survive the night.
The intertwined stories of The Purge: Anarchy revolve around a quarreling couple stupidly caught out in the open after experiencing car trouble, a mother and daughter fleeing for their lives after their apartment complex is attacked, and a man known only as Sergeant venturing out in the chaos for revenge on the man who killed his son. Everyone is unremarkable and replaceable except Frank Gillo as Sergeant Leo Barnes. In fact, all of these flat, one-dimensional characters would have died within an hour if not for Sarge.
Despite its downfalls, The Purge: Anarchy provides some mindless entertainment. In fact, everything leading up to sequence that’s eerily reminiscent of The Running Man is rather enjoyable. But then it all falls to shit. Most of the third act is just unforgivably bad with some maniac named Big Daddy who acts as the de facto villain by shooting everything and everyone to shit. Why? Because it’s his time to purge!
Throughout the movie, an anti-Purge revolution is teased with Michael K. Williams playing the leader Carmelo. Unfortunately, that whole arc seemed like an afterthought designed primarily to provide a nice bow to end one scene. So much more could have been done with this character. But again, a great actor was wasted. With Michael K. Williams aboard, ripping off The Wire and creating a bastardized version of Omar (arguably the greatest TV character) would’ve infused incredible life back into the third act.
Something, anything should have been done to save this movie from itself.
While the sequel is an improvement, there’s still a lot left to be desired due to a largely unexplored landscape. Still working with a relatively low budget (compared to other summer movies), The Purge: Anarchy gives you enough of a glimpse to provide hope that an expanded pocketbook could truly deliver on this unfulfilled promise in a third attempt. If the scope is expanded, just think of the ramifications.
What the fuck happens to air travel during the purge? How does the entire country contend with the annual aftermath? Unfortunately, this movie still creates more questions than answers, and I don’t see much hope that a sequel in the hands of the same creative mind will result in a substantially better product.