Hot Take: Imagine if Weird Al went serious and decided to make a mainstream album. That’s basically what happens with The First Purge as the unsubtle, B-movie horror series goes serious… for a bit. The second half of the film proves a leopard can’t change its spots.
Was legitimizing The Purge films necessary? The first three films developed what could be considered an almost cultish following that resonated at the box office. The franchise managed to pull off the rare feat of growing at the box office as the series matured. Domestically, the first film in the series, The Purge, pulled in $64.5 million with a scant $3 million budget. The second film, The Purge: Anarchy increased its budget to $9 million and subsequently cashed in a slightly larger $71.6 million box office. In 2016, the third film, The Purge: Election Year, added a million to the budget at $10 million and reached the franchise’s highest box office numbers at $79.0 million. Considering the success of the franchise and its formulaic approach, it’s hard to wrap your head around the latest approach in telling the prequel story in The First Purge. The origin story makes a concerted effort to concoct a more substantial story than any of the previous films until ultimately abandoning the effort mid film and going back to what worked well in the previous films (for the audience). The second half of The First Purge plays the film series’s greatest hits with a surfeit of violence. The result is an underwhelming mess of a film that lacks a true identity and instead feels like a poser that ends up being a 97 minute commercial for the companion TV show set to launch in September.
The odd part about The First Purge is its effort to tell a story we already knew, for the most part. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) decides to test a sociological theory that allows the public to let out their aggression through one lawless night in an effort to reduce the crime rate below 1% for the rest of the year. The film follows an activist (Lex Scott Davis) speaking out against The Purge, a drug kingpin (Y’Lan Noel) who cares about the community he’s pumping full of drugs, the politician desperate for the experiment to be a success (Patch Darragh) and the scientist (Marisa Tomei) behind the experiment. Essentially, though, it’s a veiled attempt to legitimize the franchise with an effort to take it from its home invasion roots to a film that has a more far-reaching social commentary with an attempt to tie the events of the film with our current political arc. (If you don’t think that’s the intention, check out the ads featuring the red cap that has become synonymous with MAGA adorned with the film’s title.)
Essentially, the film devolves into where all of the other films landed which makes the social commentary feel even more simple than the overtones in the first three films. With a TV series on the way, The First Purge could be the last one. Early box office results are solid enough to think they’d be stupid not to come up with a fifth film. The movie isn’t very complicated and the audience doesn’t seem to have discerning tastes. (There was a round of applause at the end of my showing which was ill fitting of the film’s premise.) This film already had a captive audience. They could have just played the hits and left out the effort it made to elevate the film’s story to a more meaningful level.
The one thing you thought was missing from the first three films in The Purge franchise was some social significance.
You can wait until the TV show for your fix.