It’s oddly bracing to see outright class warfare erupt into so much pop entertainment of late. Over the course of the past year, there have been blatant examples in apocalyptic kid movies like Hunger Games and Divergent, where the battle between the proletariat and oppressor ruling class is the whole focus of the film, not just a mere subtext. Then, in the more shaded world of action films for grown-ups, there is the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes species struggle. And the best movie of all summer, the brilliant Snowpiercer, is practically textbook Marxist allegory, with the rich battling the ragged masses on a train that’s derailing what’s left of our civilization.
Then there’s this movie, which most people might rightly consider a flimsy excuse to exploit wholesale screen violence. It begins with a few predictable shootings and then suddenly takes a turn toward the illustration of late-phase capitalism’s predicted degenerations. Seriously. The premise imagines the not-too-distant future in America, when violent crime and unemployment have virtually disappeared due to an annual ritual legalizing all crime (but mostly concentrating on murder) for 12 hours, dividing the populace into two groups: those who “purge” and those smart enough to lock themselves up in suburban fortresses. Where the first film concentrated on the problems of one family, this one takes a tour through the city’s super-mean streets. In the midst of a lot of mayhem, a small miracle happens. The movie introduces a cadre of mostly African-American soldiers who take aim at the affluent right-wingers who invented the Purge inside a Purge Supper Club.
Sadly, the uprising provides only brief retributions, though one suspects (and hopes) this might become the future of the franchise. But revolutionary fantasy isn’t the best part of this movie. It’s good — ridiculous but believable — and it gets under your skin, implying that we already know an America like this. It also serves to remind us that in our world, guns go off every day.