When The Purge made its debut in theaters in 2013, the absurd premise of crime being legal for one night in a 12-hour period captured the attention of both critics and audiences. Since then, The Purge franchise has seen success across the board, with five movies under its belt and a two-season stint on television. Other than the premise, one of the most notable things about the series is its clear social commentary on the rich vs. the poor, or in the case of The First Purge and The Forever Purge, political messages regarding race. Often, some audiences and critics have noted how clunky and on-the-nose the political messages are within the films; When looking at The Purge filmography, do the political messages hold them back from being great? Here’s the thing, The Purge is about violence. Gory, blood-soaked violence. People are stabbed, shot, and killed in brutal and grotesque ways. That’s the bread and butter of the franchise. The violence is glorified by a bunch of random people in odd and creepy masks seemingly trying to put on a theater show. The point is that the political messages aren’t what draw in the audiences for these films. Now, every film has some sort of message. Some have obvious political agendas, while others tend to be more subtle in their approach. There’s nothing wrong with The Purge having a social message about the world and how it can be gravely affected in the future. In fact, the subject of the rich vs. the poor has been tackled on multiple occasions, most notably The Great Gatsby or Elysium.
However, the biggest issue with The Purge franchise is that most of the characters are unrealistic or cartoonish. The political commentary feels like a backdrop for the expected violence to come in the annual event. There was never any exploration as to why the rich want to get rid of the poor so much so that they’re willing to sign off on such a heinous event. It often feels that The Purge films are painting the rich as evil people without any other layers attached to them. In the first film, the Polite Stranger and his minions are cartoonishly evil. So are the rich folks in the respective films including the members of the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA). The First Purge had a chance to truly explain why this group sanctioned such a deplorable event and while it does clear up a few questions, it never taps into why these men and women are so bent on the killing of the lower class. And here’s the thing, The Purge franchise is no way subtle about their messages, which is another strike against their films as it effectively takes away the tension and drama heft that could be useful in a series like this. If The Purge films aren’t going to really get to the root of the issues that affect the world of these movies, then there’s really no point in the social commentary. Does it add an interesting layer to a film that could’ve settled for mindless violence? Yes, but as I previously stated, The Purge is about unflinching violence first; however, since the political messages are in there, the writers do feel the need to tie the themes in within the overall film. In truth, the political messages do hold the films back from greatness.
The political messages throughout each feature are poorly told. There’s just no dancing around it. The Fast franchise understands exactly what it is. Since Fast Five, the series became an over-the-top and cartoonish stunt piece that often had logical plot holes. However, the films understand what they are, and audiences and critics love them for it. The Raid is considered one of the greatest action films of the last generation. However, the movie lacks any significant character development. It’s not a mindless action and gore fest as the story is told pretty well, but you’ll definitely exit the film caring more about the cool fight sequences more than anything else. There are dozens and dozens of other great films that opt to not go the political route and are simply mindless fun. The Purge doesn’t need its political themes. All the films need is a cohesive story and a compelling set of characters. No one goes to see these movies for its social themes. The Purge can achieve greatness if it stops trying to be this important voice about the world and embrace its crazy premise and the unique pension for violence.