Frank Grillo is already a part of the Marvel cinematic universe - he played Crossbones in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and has a contract with the studio to reprise his role in a few more movies - but his performance in The Purge: Anarchy could also serve as a roundabout audition for another Marvel character: The Punisher. While there isn't any official discussion about Grillo taking on that role (yet), his trenchcoat-wearing, brooding badass in this film is a dead ringer for Frank Castle. They're both out to avenge fallen family members, but lucky for Grillo's Sergeant (who never gets a name in Anarchy), it's Purge night - so that makes his vengeance legal.
The Purge: Anarchy
Writer/Director: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul, Kiele Sanchez, Zach Gilford
I just caught up with the first Purge film a couple of weeks ago, and while it's obviously constrained by its small budget, I thought the overall concept was decent enough: in the early 2020s, crime and unemployment have reached new lows, but the tradeoff is that Americans have to endure one twelve hour period called The Purge, in which all crime - including murder - is legalized by the U.S. government's New Founding Fathers. Some people lock down at home, while others go out to "release the beast" as a catharsis for spending the year behaving like civilized people. Most of the first film took place in a single house, but Anarchy expands the action out into the streets as a group of strangers are caught outside during Purge night and must stay together to survive the night in downtown Los Angeles.
Grillo is fine as the stoic warrior with a personal vendetta, and if the film had fleshed out his character more or only followed him as he tried to get to his destination, I might have liked it more. Instead, DeMonaco throws in a handful of supporting characters that are nothing more than tired stereotypes: a timid mom too afraid to push for a raise at work and her livewire daughter; a couple struggling to keep their relationship together; etc. The dialogue is overwrought, the characters are paper thin, and the idea that all of these people could come in contact with the same group of villains in a city as large as Los Angeles multiple times doesn't do a lot to help DeMonaco's idea of making us feel like he's playing in a larger playground.
The story is pretty basic: Grillo plays a guy out to exact some revenge, and when he stumbles across a mother (Carmen Ejogo) and daughter (Zoe Soul) who have been captured, he stops to save their lives. An annoying couple (real life husband and wife Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) joins this little group after their car breaks down, and since various killers are after everyone, they all stick together to make it through the night.
Thematically, I'll admit there are some occasionally interesting things at play here. There's the same have vs. have-nots conflict that drove the first movie, but it's taken to a more ridiculous degree with Michael K. Williams playing a revolutionary this time around. This is an overtly political movie, but nothing about it is subtle or profound: it's completely obvious on every level, and everything in the predictable plot plays out exactly as you expect. Matt Reeves was able to Trojan horse an anti-gun message into Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in a completely organic way, but all of the messaging of The Purge: Anarchy is loud and clunky, and feels like DeMonaco is just being preachy. Still, there's a lot to unpack about sexual frustration and privilege in a would-be rape scene early on (especially considering the real life rants of Elliot Rodger before his recent killing spree), and there are some racial components that are a bit more complex than anything in the first movie...so I guess that's something.
No one in the cast does particularly memorable work, and I feel the movie itself never quite goes far enough to justify its premise. Sure, it has some competent action beats and a larger scope than the first, but that doesn't make The Purge: Anarchy a great film, or even a good one. It's clear that DeMonaco and the film's producers are hoping to turn this into a yearly tradition, but my feelings after seeing this sequel are probably very similar to those of fans when they walked out of the first film: I wish it had been better and dug deeper.