Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Producer: Jason Blum, Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Sebastien K. Lemercier
Stars: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Betty Gabriel, Joseph Julian Soria, Raymond J. Barry
Leo Barnes must defend a senator from assassination when government officials become targets during the annual Purge.
“How the Hell did it get to this?” That’s what Senator Charlie Roan, a presidential candidate running on an anti-Purge platform, wonders while surveying the annual carnage in “The Purge: Election Year.” That quote could all the same have come from writer/director/mastermind James DeMonaco. Undoubtedly pleased by his franchise’s continued success, DeMonaco must be somewhat surprised too, marveling at how a concept that started two films ago as a setup for a suburban siege thriller is now thick with expanded political commentary and social subtext.
His vigilante crusade during “The Purge: Anarchy” (review here) firmly behind him, Leo Barnes now keeps his gun mostly holstered as chief of security for Senator Roan. Roan is in a heated race with establishment candidate Minister Edwidge Owens and only two months remain until the election.
(Presidential elections apparently take place in May instead of November in the Purge version of America. I wonder if DeMonaco had a conflict with the Purge date being established as March 21st and realized eight months separation from an election was no bueno. Voting also takes place on May 26th in 2040, which makes even less sense since that is a Saturday.)
Roan’s vow to abolish the Purge doesn’t sit well with the nervous New Founding Fathers of America. Anti-NFFA activists contend that the Purge is just government-sanctioned extermination of low-income families, intended to curb welfare programs so fat cat pockets can be lined with more cash. The NFFA’s solution to silencing this fomenting discontent is to, for the first time ever, repeal the sanction protecting government officials from harm during Purge activities. And they’re going to use this opportunity they created to assassinate Senator Roan and ensure the sheep stay pacified.
Barnes’ night of bodyguard duty just amplified its fatality factor by ten thousand. While a team of deadly mercenaries pursues Barnes and Roan across D.C. streets during Purge night, the duo finds unlikely allies in a ragtag band of average citizens fighting to emerge from the Purge alive.
Three films deep, “The Purge” series continues expanding its mythology in intriguing ways. The first film (review here) was self-contained to a single house. The first sequel breathed more by taking the setting outside. “Election Year” goes further still by giving a few choice glimpses at the bigger picture’s shape, inspiring minor food for thought while entertaining with a vibrantly violent blend of suspense and satire.
Among the movie’s more novel details, we finally see a bit involving how the rest of the world views a legal murder holiday in the United States. Out-of-country tourists visiting in Uncle Sam and Statue of Liberty masks to partake in purging seem to think the idea is absolutely aces. Meanwhile, deli owner Joe Dixon’s insurance company gives him only two days notice on an exorbitant price hike, effectively telling Joe he is on his own for any Purge damages suffered by his business.
“Election Year” also briefly features a “bring out your dead” flatbed collecting bodies before they pile too high. I don’t know what kind of hazard pay is offered for this job, but efforts to make the next morning’s Herculean cleanup a little easier are no doubt appreciated.
I still would like to see what America looks like on March 22nd. Along with overrun hospitals and morgues, think of the long-term psychiatric damage suffered by either hearing about or personally witnessing the butchery of loved ones, co-workers, and neighbors every 365 days.
Returning as Leo Barnes, Frank Grillo sports all the action hero machismo of Vin Diesel or Jason Statham without any unnecessary peacock swagger. Grillo’s ashen rasp and stubbled jaw still say stay away, yet weird warmth concurrently comes forth to imply he should be the first person you want protecting you in a life or death situation.
Senator Roan doesn’t have as much to do. She doesn’t have to. Elizabeth Mitchell can subtly suggest or outright sell a lot with just a look, not needing as much from a script as less talented actors might.
It’s for the best, too. Because for the brave face “The Purge: Election Year” puts up of significant thematic depth, some of its screenplay can be skeletally shallow. Predictably pat lines like, “if you do this, you will be no different than them” accompany several such recycled action movie moments.
Since the movie gets caught up in some of these traditional tropes, subtext is up to the viewer to either infer or not. “Election Year” is built for mass appeal first with divisive discourse a distant second. Whatever sly winks or accusatory jabs at current conservative politics exist are loaded within the premise itself and not necessarily the plot. Stroke a chin seeing parallels of America’s contemporary socio-political climate, or simply soak up the silly sadism of costumed sorority girls toting assault rifles with bedazzled stocks. “The Purge: Election Year” doesn’t mind which take is yours.
Of “The Purge” trio, “Election Year” has the least tight tempo. Momentum isn’t required to solely come from an unrelenting gunfire and knife fight orgy, though calmer scenes struggle past second and third act sags that could have been tempered by trimming the runtime a touch.
“The Purge: Election Year” might not be the smoothest of the three films thus far, but by this third entry, you’re either willfully riding “The Purge” train or have already deboarded at the station. In the latter case, there is still nothing for you at this stop. For the former group, “Election Year” takes the right tone of subversive thriller entertainment to progress “The Purge” as both a franchise and as a concept.
Review Score: 75