'The Purge: Anarchy' review: Intense sequel still silly, thin & preachy
This sequel is a more menacing survival-thriller than the original "Purge" in every possible way -- while still being a little too silly and preachy for its own good.
In short: As the annual 'Purge' begins -- a 12-hour period when any and all crime, including murder, is completely legal across the US, a man bent on revenge (Frank Grillo, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier") crosses paths with a young married couple on the run and a mother and daughter just trying to survive the night. (Watch the trailer)
"Anarchy" is really what the first "Purge" film should have been. While the original (which was a home invasion-thriller) was too small to fully realize the "all crime is legal" premise, this sequel truly explores and fleshes out the society that has embraced the annual Purge. This sequel reveals how society has not only justified the Purge - but also how mundane the entire event seems to most citizens.
This film is at its best when it explores how people across all economic and racial backgrounds view and treat the Purge. For some, the 12-hour crime spree has allowed society to prosper. For others, the Purge is a right given by the government. But most simply want to survive the "holiday." But just about every has simply accepted the Purge as a critical aspect of society.
"Anarchy" is an intense, nightmarish odyssey through a near-future Los Angeles gone mad -- seemingly filled only with psychopaths armed to the teeth. This backdrop is a great setting for the five main characters just trying to elude murderous sociopaths and navigate their way to safety.
That said, the homogeneity of virtually every non-main character dumbs down "Anarchy" to an absurd level. Basically, every character who's not one of the main character is a bad guy. And just about every 'bad guy' falls into one of two buckets: either a creepy, silent, expressionless homicidal zombie or a rich, overzealous, cult-like one-percenter who discusses the Purge a little too cheerfully and treats each Purge/murder like it's a religious ceremony.
Oh, and then there's some radical (Michael K. Williams, "The Wire") who -- throughout the film -- pontificates about the Purge being little more than legalized class warfare to benefit the rich. It's clear this character is a device to connect this sequel's story to a larger, overarching narrative that addresses the morals and ethics of the franchise's premise. Unfortunately, everything about these radicals comes off as preachy in tone and heavy-handed in delivery.
The blandness of the Purge bad guys bleeds over to the main characters. Only the Frank Grillo character (who is bent on revenge) has any dimension or character -- the other four characters are sadly thin and underdeveloped ... which makes them hard to care about. Not caring much about characters lowers the story stakes significantly.
The nail in the "Anarchy" coffin, however, is the silliness that - although rare - is distracting and sometimes brings unintentional laughs (aka, the worst kind of laughs). An element of comic silliness is sprinkled throughout "Anarchy," which usually detracts and never adds to the film. For example, it's not enough for a pair of smug, cartoonishly ultra-rich brothers to clearly be callous and entitled killers paying to hunt/Purge victims - they also have to fist bump each other as they begin to stalk their pray. Many of the killers in "Anarchy" are too-over-the-top, which adds a grim, light-hearted humor to the film, but at the cost of dulling the terrifying aspects of "Anarchy."
Final verdict: "The Purge: Anarchy" is an OK survival horror/thriller, but not one that's particularly memorable in any meaningful way. "Anarchy" might be worth a channel surfing stop to horror/thriller enthusiasts, but it's not worth making a trip to see this sequel in theaters.
"The Purge: Anarchy" opens nationwide in theaters July 18, with some early showtimes July 17.