The Purge: Catching Fire & Rescue (Movie Review)
The Purge: Anarchy: 2 ½ out of 5
Leo: It’s late. You need to leave.
One of the more impressive aspects of The Purge: Anarchy is not really the movie itself, but the fact that how it was sold managed to get me excited, despite the first ‘Purge’ from a year ago finding its way to my ‘Worst of 2013’ list. Fast-tracked sequel or not, ‘Anarchy’ seemed set out to resolve the main issue that the first film created, which was to go a more open world route, given the endless possibilities that the ridiculous basic concept set up. Here is a film that exists in a reality where crime and unemployment are at all-time lows in America, because a 12-hour period exists one night a year, where all crime (especially murder) is legal. It is a very dumb premise if you stop to think about it, but there is so much to do with that concept, which is something this higher-budgeted sequel tries to do. With all of that said, even when considering the couple degrees that separate this film from reality, in an effort to add some level of social commentary, I did not take away much from this film that will likely stick with me no further than a week.
Wisely starting fresh, as opposed to revisiting Ethan Hawke’s very annoying family from the first film, The Purge: Anarchy features three main sets of people that eventually find each other during the night of the annual Purge. Only one of these people actually meant to be outside during the Purge, in the disaster zone that is downtown Los Angeles. This person is Leo (Frank Grillo), a man stocked with weapons, cruising around town in his Purge-mobile, and hell-bent on getting revenge for the death of his son. We also have Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoe Soul), a mother and daughter who are forced out of their home, but are saved by Leo. Then there is Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), a couple with the worst luck in the world, when it comes to automobiles, as they also find themselves stranded in the night. Once this group teams up, the world is anything but their oyster, as they travel around a minefield consisting of masked strangers, random shootings, traps, and other violent opposition keeping them from finding sanctuary.
As it turns out, getting what you wanted is not always great. Weird right? Many complained about The Purge coming up with what seemed like a sound premise for a horror-thriller, only to get a home-invasion thriller that kept the concept fairly in the background. It did not help that the characters were annoying and badly acted, but there is no need to re-hash my thoughts on that film. With The Purge: Anarchy, the concept is examined closer, in a way, as we follow characters stuck right in the middle of where lots of ‘Purging’ takes place. The film still does not come close to examining all the details of concept involving the idea of All crime being legal, but it does present a look at a world that is clearly aping elements that exist in our current society. Returning writer/director James DeMonaco may or may not have all the answers to the logic of his world, but he certainly has a level of anger or radical thoughts that are being spilled out in this film. Keeping that in mind, this sequel may delver further into the hell that can be the night of the Purge, but it still actually feels restrained.
John Carpenter seems like a clear influence on James DeMonaco, but films like Escape from New York or Assault on Precinct 13 are able to accomplish so much more, because they take darker chances. Sure, ‘Anarchy’ is technically a studio produced film, so there may not have been a chance to go to certain places, but at the same time, the film still feels like more of a ride through Purge City, as opposed to one that truly places us in that world. We get to watch characters that are developed nicely enough, but are only in what seems like the semblance of danger. There is a lead bad-ass character that has an agenda, but is not shaded in any way that suggests he’s more than an anti-hero with a heart of gold. We see violence taking place, but between the digital blood and the lack of anything that really makes this a harder R-rating than what could have come from a film with this premise, it is more loud than scary.
It is not as if I needed a more exploitative version of this film, especially when it provides a fairly entertaining second and third act, but the sense of dread is way more palpable in the first third, which is actually violence-free. The first 20-30 minutes are all character-based and it is well-done stuff. We don’t know everything about these people, but the fear, dread, and sense of anguish is represented well. There is also a layer of dark humor that comes in and sticks with the film, but it can only do so much to make one enjoy the events taking place. Hints at what the possible sequel could be exist too, which may actually dive into the politics of this whole thing, but I do not know if I really care about all that. The basic premise is outlandish and a simple story that does not back down from the moral ambiguity (if you can even call ‘killing sprees and more’ that) that is on display.
I should mention Frank Grillo in some way, as he is an actor that has become more and more prominent in recent years and I really like what he has to offer. As Leo, he is the bad-ass lead character that will likely come out on top in all this, given his agenda. Grillo makes the role work, based on what he is given to do, and I can say the same about most of this cast. He basically gets to show off how good of a Punisher he could be, if Marvel didn’t already make him Crossbones in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Still, there is not much to who this character is that makes me question the greater message that DeMonaco may be going for. This can be said for the film as a whole too, as the iconography of this world may have significant meaning behind it, but not a whole lot is done to make me appreciate it, let alone cherish the entertainment found in the action on display.
The Purge: Anarchy, a title questionable due to how I don’t see much ‘anarchy’ in a film where crime is legal, is a step up from the first film, but only meets the bare minimum in being something worthwhile. The ideas are there and the film is competently made to a point, but feels like it is holding back. Whether it is because the question “how dark is too dark?” came up or because there just was not enough time for this fast-tracked sequel to dive in even deeper, the film is more of a mild distraction in a summer full of spectacle, featuring a certain level brutality, rather than a memorable journey into a world of despair with a layer of commentary to make it more digestible. I am still strangely intrigued by where it can go from here though, so hopefully Purge Hard with a Vengeance will really deliver.
Liz: People like us don’t survive tonight!