Last year I reviewed the original Purge movie on my own blog and my chief complaints were that the movie was intellectually lazy for not exploring more of the complexities of the setting and for being so short that there was no time for any kind of real narrative. The Purge: Anarchy leaves practically no stone unturned in examining what kind of culture would emerge around the idea of annual purges and it clocks in at almost 20 minutes longer with a far more nuanced story to show for it. I got every thing I said I wanted and I still don’t like this movie. It’s either a shaking moment for my credibility as a critic as I might have no idea what I want or this franchise is just not going to be no matter what they do. I hope it’s the latter.
The Purge: Anarchy dives deeper in to the world by focusing on a more diverse ensemble. Our cast consists of a poor mother-daughter pair that is dragged out of their homes on purge night as part of some nebulous conspiracy that I won’t spoil mostly because it didn’t make a ton of sense. They are joined by a couple on the rocks who have their car sabotaged so they can’t escape the purge, that committing crimes before the purge to make purging easier would seem to be against the rules is never brought up. The last member of the ensemble is a police officer out for revenge who can’t help himself and saves the rest of the four and then takes on the role of their protector and displays some honestly godlike powers along the way. Maybe it isn’t the annual purges keeping crime down the rest of the year and more that they’ve trained all their officers to be Batman on steroids.
The bigger cast doesn’t really change the original film’s reluctance to have characters change over the course of the film. The sum total of character growth in this movie is one character decides that murder is always wrong, even in the case of revenge, and another decides killing people for revenge is therapeutic. I’m not even sure if the film wants us to judge the character who decides that murder is the answer, she’s treated very sympathetically all the way up to that moment and is never seen after that. “Is murder wrong?” is not a question a movie like this can be ambiguous about, that’s not what telling this story is about.
The first Purge movie had some uncomfortable race moments, a lot of menace seemed to stem solely from the idea that a white family should be afraid of a black man, and the second one tries to bounce back while completely missing the point. This time around virtually every black character is virtuous but most Hispanic people are terrible. It seems they got the feedback but missed the point. This seems to be an unstoppable franchise at this point so we can all hope that by The Purge 5: Constitutional Monarchy they’ve sorted all this out.