The Purge: Anarchy is a sequel that's aware of what its predecessor did wrong and is intent on fixing it. Whereas 2013's The Purge did nothing with its clever premise by settling into a home invasion thriller, Anarchy expands on the idea of what happens during a lawless night and is notably better because of it.
In 2023 America, crime rates are at an all-time low. The reason is The Purge, one night a year in which all crime, including murder, is legal. Americans are encouraged by the government to "release the beast" and purge themselves of all hatred and revenge during this 12-hour period. The night has its dissenters, notably an activist named Carmelo Johns (Michael K. Williams), but in essence it's an unpleasant night that people deal with and move on. Obviously, any non-homicidal maniac will take a sleeping pill, shelter up and call it a day, but for the slightly more cuckoo it's time for blood.
Writer and director James DeMonaco, who also made the first film, focuses on innocents caught in the horror. The car breaks down on separating couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), leaving them in the middle of the purge-happy city. Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) are happy to lock their apartment and keep to themselves, but a close call with home invaders forces them on the run. Lost and scared in the city, all four are found and helped by an ominous enforcer named Leo (Frank Grillo), who has an agenda of his own.
"I'm guessing you're either a pain in my ass or a pain in my ass," Leo says to Cali, providing an indication of the philistinic dialogue muttered throughout the film.
Keeping everyone safe is, of course, difficult. Machine guns, snipers, machetes and various crazies are everywhere and capable of anything. Wealthy folk who wish to purge but keep their hands clean (figuratively) select indigent, terminally ill people who will sacrifice themselves in exchange for money for their family, and/or simply pay thugs to kidnap people for them to kill. This is practical, clever and smart, and sets up a satisfying finale.
At its core the film seems to want to comment on radical political factions and the dangers inherent in their emerging power. But every time the story approaches social commentary it quickly swerves back into action-movie mode. There's no major shame in this per se — the movie knows what it is, and owns it (see the previous note about the dialogue) — but it does make one consider how much more substantive this could've been.
Still, there's no doubt The Purge: Anarchy is a notable improvement on the original, and answers what many felt to be the original's shortcomings. In many ways, this is what the filmmakers should have been doing all along. The question remains if the public will be satisfied with how DeMonaco fleshed the story, or if they'll be ruing what they wished for. Kind of like those characters who support The Purge, actually.