The Evolution of the Purge Movies
July 3, 2018
(The Channel Awesome logo is displayed and the title sequence plays, before showing NC in his chair)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. If you saw my review of The Purge, you know that I thought it was... (looks up in thought)
(Cut to the title for The Purge and the NC's review of it)
NC: (singing) From sea to shining– (stops singing, upset) Shut the fuck up!
(Cut back to the current NC)
NC: ...needing improvement.
(The clips from the 2013 movie The Purge are shown)
NC (vo): The movie, nevertheless, was a huge surprise hit, so much so that the fourth movie is coming out this 4th of July. Despite the spin-off films rarely reaching number one at the box office...and I'm just gonna take a wild guess and say that's gonna happen again... (A poster for the movie Ant-Man and the Wasp is shown) ...they're still seen as successes.
NC: In many respects, it's hard not to see why.
NC (vo): The Purge is a cool idea. One night a year, all crime is legal and people take to the streets to live out their darkest fantasies. Everything from a satirical, exploitive and political level seems to easily comment on itself.
NC: There was just one problem. The first film sucked at it.
NC (vo): It took place mostly in one home, it was filled with holes, the characters were weak, and the whole angle of the film seemed to be making the point that we're all just one step away from making this all happen. It's kinda like the people that are saying that we're one step away from Handmaid's Tale happening.
(Two images, people talking cheerfully and a shot of this Hulu web series, are shown next to NC)
NC: I...feel like there's a few more steps!
NC (vo): I hammered in how much the first film was...well, hammered in, coming across as pretentious, forced, and not even much fun on an exploitive level.
NC: Except for this guy who played the leader!
(The Polite Leader, played by Rhys Wakefield, is shown in some clips)
NC (vo): He was so awesome, I gave him a name. I called him Henry. Which was technically the boyfriend's name, but he was so pointless, I gave his name to this guy.
NC: Confused? Don't be. The Purge just works.
Newscaster: The undeniable fact is, this is working.
NC (vo): And that was one of the biggest problems with the film. The economy is supposed to be better, people of social statuses were supposed to be better, all because of this one day.
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke): Because it works.
NC: Don't believe me? Science.
Dr. Peter Buynak (Peter Bzovdas): (on TV) We are inherently a violent species. The denial of our true selves is the problem. The countrywide catharsis creates psychological stability by letting us release the aggression we all have inside of us.
NC: Yeah...how'd that line go in National Lampoon's Vacation again?
(A clip from said movie is shown)
Mechanic: You must've got manure for your brains.
(We are then shown a clip from NC's previous review of Fox Kids programming block, particularly the 1994 Spider-Man animated series part)
NC (vo): Next, you'll be telling me in my Fox Kids review, Tony Jay didn't play the Kingpin- (A picture of Roscoe Lee Browne, the actor who actually voiced Kingpin in the show, appears) You know, I really shouldn't start sentences with "next, you'll be telling me".
(The footage of the next two films, The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year is shown alongside the original film's clips)
NC (vo): But I'm not here to talk about the first film again. I'm here to talk about the follow-up movies, which, surprisingly...
NC: ...seem to get better with each passing one.
NC (vo): I know that sounds strange, seeing how the first one was so bad, but with every movie, more and more improvements are made. And it's fascinating to analyze them. Now, heads up, while I'm not gonna go into every detail about the films, particularly the fourth one because it hasn't come out yet by the time I'm reviewing this, there are spoilers that need to be addressed in order for this evaluation to work. So you've been warned. Basically, the Purge movies have gone from high school "notice me" fiction to legitimately clever commentary with each passing movie. It's almost as if the filmmakers realized the problems with the first film and decided, "Let's fix them with each flick", something rarely seen in movie sequels; they usually just get worse and worse the more they make.
NC: What makes it even more interesting is the first three films are written and directed by the same person.
NC (vo): James DeMonaco not only makes each film better as they progress, but he actually goes back and retcons the issues of the first movie in a way that doesn't require time-traveling, dreaming, or whatever (poster for...) The Connors are going to do. He used actual clever writing, making the first movie a shitty standalone film, but an interesting POV movie when part of a larger story. Was this all part of a grand plan? Unlikely, but...it still bears taking a look. As stated before, the first film is about a family who's satisfied with the Purge until they become victims of blood-hungry teens and even their own neighbors. So the husband is lost, the rest of the family survives, and they even save an innocent man who snuck into their home for safety. The lesson seemed to be the Purge is bad. Big shock.
(The clips are focusing on the second film of the series)
NC (vo): The following film, Purge: Anarchy, takes place the next year and follows another group of people. This time, though, we're not just stuck in one house, we're allowed to go outside and see how the rest of the area they live in reacts to the Purge. While there's, of course, psychos everywhere, there's also a resistance group, of which the guy who was hiding in the house in the previous film is a member of. The film focuses not just around these people surviving, but also seeing how other people use this night to their benefit. For example, some folks buy people to kill on their special night, leaving the money to their family. Others create giant mazes to release kidnapped victims in order to hunt them for sport. And some, like our main character Leo, want to give revenge on those who wronged them. After surviving the night and deciding vengeance will make him less of a man, he's shot by a guy named Big Daddy, who reveals a big plot point.
(The movie's climax is shown, showing the bleeding Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) having been tackled by Big Daddy (Jack Conely), the paramilitary platoon leader)
Big Daddy: Unfortunately, the citizens aren't killing enough. So we supplement it all to keep things balanced.
NC: Yep. Apparently, the Purge doesn't work. But...not in the stupid way like the first film said.
NC (vo): It doesn't just not work on an ethical level, it also doesn't work on an economic level. People were killing out of grudges, rather than just killing the weak or random people, meaning there was still a lot of lower class left. So the government secretly dispatched death squads to increase the body count, letting the government control the economy by just getting rid of the poor and the helpless. So it turns out there's a lot more manipulation than we were led to believe. People were being lied to about why the Purge works, technically proving that it doesn't work; it's just the government interfering, taking out the lower social class.
NC: Suddenly, the first film becomes a lot more interes- Okay, a little bit more interesting.
NC (vo): The characters are still bland and dull, but their blind belief that what their government is telling them is true suddenly seems a lot more fascinating. As long as they're not seeing it, they're less likely to question it. I guess you could argue that's always the ethical mindset in the film, but the sequel adds a financial level to it as well. So, even though these first two films do still have problems...what, this is only the sixth Purge, and it happens in 2023?
NC: Again, feel like there'd be a few more steps!
NC (vo): ...both of them now suddenly have relevance. And seeing how this is unavoidably a political angle now, that's where the next film goes.
(The footage focuses on the third movie)
NC (vo): Purge: Election Year centers around a senator whose family is killed from the Purge, making this the year... (mutters in confusion, as we briefly see the caption "20??" along with the in-movie caption "18 years later. 2 days before the annual Purge") ...and runs a campaign for president to bring the Purge to a close. Not surprisingly, now that these movies reveal the government's manipulation, a lot of people are behind her, and she might possibly win. Naturally, there's a lot of people who don't want her to win, though, so when the Purge commences, the President makes a change to the rules that now government officials are fair game, too. Again, an obvious political move to make them seem identifiably equal when it's, of course, being used to destroy the other side. Her Head of Security, Leo from the last film, does his best to protect her in light of this new law. I like how there's no one main character through these films, but there's still bleed-over characters. It makes the movies seem connected in a surprisingly non-gimmicky way. Once again, we have a series of things going wrong, and a group of people on the run, trying to survive the night. No big shock, the senator gets captured and is about to be sacrificed by a group called the New Founding Fathers of America. She's saved, though, and two months later, is elected. And, as she mentioned before, intends to end the Purge.
NC: So, happy ending, right?
NC (vo): I mean, the majority of people didn't seem to want the Purge, so this should be okay. Well, the last scene shows our main characters listening to a report about violent uprisings all around the country in response to the election results. It's a grim final scene that leaves open some interesting questions. Is it really over? Is this just a small group of people and not the majority who thinks this? If so, how much damage can a small group do? Are things only gonna get worse, or are they going to get worse before they get better? If the latter, how much sacrificing is going to come from it? These questions have come a long way since the first film that just asked the question "Is the Purge good or bad?".
NC: Wow. That's diving deep, and- OF COURSE IT'S BAD!
NC (vo): These questions, however, are not only more interesting in this universe, but can also draw relevance to our own political climate. But here's the brilliant thing: the political climate at any given time. No matter what party or what candidate, changing of the guard always happens, and usually with a lot of resistance. People can and have gotten violent, and sometimes, it's hard to grasp, whether or not it's a loud minority or a loud majority. Within the span of three movies, The Purge has gone from a laughably pretentious film to a clever satire that can mostly be utilized at any point in time. Even though people aren't literally killing each other, the dog-eat-dog world we often live in that's exploited and even rewarded on a daily basis can still be seen. And it's never fully gonna go away. With the films becoming more and more political... (The promo poster for the fourth movie, The First Purge, appears, showing a red cap that is really similar to Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" cap) and judging by the poster, I'm just assuming the next one is gonna be very heavy in that...the Purge movies can actually turn into probably not a great series, but a surprisingly relevant one.
NC: Granted, by the time I'm reviewing this, the movie hasn't come out, though, and it does have a new director, so I have no idea if it's gonna be good or bad.
(The trailer clips for The First Purge are shown, before showing the footage of all the films)
NC (vo): But the director still stayed on as writer, so maybe there's still hope. If it is good, this would be among the rare group of movies that actually gets better and better the more they make. (The collages for the Mad Max, Mission: Impossible and Fast and Furious movies' posters are shown) From Mad Max to Mission: Impossible to the Fast and Furious movies, these are films that get better the more of them that come out, which doesn't happen often. Especially if they begin from a very bad starting point. And The Purge, honestly, seems like one of those series. It's fascinating to see how a franchise that easily could have pleased people by just showing a ton of violence with only a hair of commentary in the sequels, actually chose to not only become smarter with every film but also try to retcon the problems of the previous ones. It doesn't happen often, and it should be acknowledged when it does. Everyone now knows the idea of The Purge; if you even just say that one word, this is the first thing that pops in their head.
(The clips from Rick and Morty season 2 episode "Look Who's Purging Now" are shown)
Rick Sanchez: It's like The Purge, Morty. / You've been able to sustain world peace because you have one night a year, where you all run around robbing and murdering each other without consequence!
Purge Planet Villager: That's right.
Morty Smith: What?!
NC (vo): It's a wonderfully creepy idea that's worked its way into pop culture. But the films are now reflecting the possibilities of that idea, rather than just leaving it at the simple concept. It's being used to analyze ourselves in a creepily fun and creative way, (The posters for Soylent Green and Logan's Run are shown) like what a lot of sci-fi exploitation style films used to do.
NC: Now, don't get me wrong, it's not high art.
NC (vo): It's still, in many respects, just a crazy deranged gorefest. Nevertheless, it is neat to see a film series evolve like this learning from its mistakes and becoming more and more relevant with each passing film. I don't know what the next movie will bring. Maybe it'll be the best one yet, maybe it'll be the worst, but either way, The Purge doesn't look like it's leaving our culture any time soon.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
(He gets up and leaves. The credits roll, followed by the Channel Awesome logo)