"The Purge: Anarchy" is a good deal bloodier, but also — gulp — a good deal better than its predecessor. Make no mistake, a good "Purge" does not equal a good movie, but the post-apocalyptic thriller is slightly more interesting because it takes itself, and its menace, more seriously.
The first "Purge," the brainchild of writer-director James DeMonaco, was a concentrated form of our gun-crazy times where any lunatic can buy a semiautomatic and turn it on strangers. A sleeper hit last year, it clearly touched a nerve.
The sequel, also directed by DeMonaco, stars a strong trio in Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul. The purging, or as I think of it, 12 hours when "going postal" has the government's stamp of approval, has been refined.
The glorified and gore-ified home-invasion story of the original spills out into the streets in full-scale class warfare, and in the process we get a better class of people to care about. It's not that the well-heeled suburban family in "The Purge" was horrible. But you probably wouldn't invite them to dinner either.
In "Anarchy," the heroes are a cross section of ordinary folks. Chance will bring them together, survival will bond them, a lone vigilante will lead them. It was a good choice to put Grillo in that lead role; his steel jaw and palpable intensity are perfect for purge night.
Grillo's Sergeant is a father using the purge to exact justice on the man responsible for his son's death. The action turns on that revenge mission getting sidetracked. Sarge just can't drive by the gang of masked men grabbing single mother Eva (Ejogo) and her teenager Cali (Soul), whose low-income apartment building made them an easy target for marauders. They represent the struggling poor. In case you hadn't guessed, there is no room for subtly in "Anarchy."
While he's doing the good deed, a bickering yuppie couple played by real-life spouses Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez, slip into the backseat of Sarge's heavily fortified car. They were last-minute grocery shopping and seem nice enough, but let's face it, that was stupid. To be fair, it's the kind of stupidity that plagues "Purge-ville."
Meanwhile the anarchy in "Anarchy" is a far more structured affair. There are still plenty of random thugs, but specific warring factions have emerged. Our band of innocents will encounter all of them before it's over.
The most likely to be center stage if there is a third "Purge" is a beret-wearing rebel named Carmelo, played by "The Wire's" wonderful Michael K. Williams. He's co-opting the airwaves to encourage people to rage against the rampage, sure that a government conspiracy is afoot.
DeMonaco's America circa 2023 is not a nice place and the villains are many. Teams of well-funded assassins in high-tech big rigs scour the streets to thin the herd, so to speak — overpopulation is an issue. Gangs, in elaborate masks that echo any number of horror movie tropes, run a recycling program, kidnapping and selling people to be offed for sport.
The rich are a really nasty bunch, shelling out big bucks to purge the less privileged in various ways.
The sequel's bigger budget allows the killing, burning and maiming to be executed, as they say, in living color. Despite the film's drumbeat that killing other people is not the answer to the country's problems, the violence is excessive, unrelenting and hard to stomach. But by building a marginally better "Anarchy," no doubt we're in for another purge next year.
'The Purge: Anarchy'
MPAA rating: R for strong disturbing violence, and for language
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes