‘The First Purge’ Review: Dumb, Dull, and Racially Patronizing

The First Purge (Universal Pictures, 2018)
Universal Pictures

The First Purge makes absolutely no sense, and this is coming from someone who gives genre films, most especially low budget ones, a wide berth in the department of logic. This is also coming from a fan who enjoyed the previous three installments (the second, Purge: Anarchy, is straight-up brilliant), and who was looking forward to this prequel, which promised to lay out how it all began.

The First Purge is set in the present-day, but in an alternate reality where Trump is obviously not running things. We know this because the economy is bad, so bad the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) are able to legally seize control of the federal government. With the Democrat and Republican parties abolished, the NFFA (which is represented only by soft-looking white guys) knows it has to produce results fast.

Enter The Architect aka Dr. May Updale (Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei in search of a paycheck). Her idea is to improve society by legalizing lawlessness for 12 hours, for one night a year. Her belief is that with a legal outlet to purge rage and frustration, America will become great again for the other 364 days.

Before the NFFA can go nationwide, though, they must first see if the idea will actually work, so the self-contained Staten Island is where the first experiment will take place, and this is where things get dumb.

As a 40-year fan of Blaxploitation, I am not at all bothered by the fact The First Purge sides with people of color (POC) over evil whitey. But in its zeal to do so, we are led to believe no white people live on Staten Island, even though Staten Island is 65 percent white.

Seriously, what happened to all the white people?

What’s more, in what has to be the most racially patronizing and insulting plot point since Morgan Freeman drove Miss Daisy, we are told that, through a democratic vote, the all black and brown residents of Staten Island chose to be the subjects of this experiment, and did so in exchange for … $5,000.

The First Purge (Universal Pictures, 2018)

Now I ask you… What kind of bigot believes black and brown people would vote in favor of allowing a lawless, 12-hour riot to take place in their own neighborhoods for any amount of money, much less a measly $5000?

So, although set in the present day, in order to make POC the victims, The First Purge removes all white people from Staten Island, which makes the 100 percent minority population guilty of inviting this horror into their own homes.

Yes, James DeMonaco, the creator of the franchise (and this is his script), is a middle-aged white guy.

On top of being patronizing, this is totally illogical.

As portrayed in the movie, the people of Staten Island have plenty to eat, enjoy cable television and Internet access, can afford iPhones, and for the price of soap, water, and a gallon of paint (I’d recommend a Laguna Yellow with a satin finish) could transform their apartments from dystopian to utopian.

People in the First Purge keep talking about how frustrated they are — with what exactly? Staten Island looks like a pretty nice place to live. We see parks, small businesses… Sure, there is a drug problem, but that is homegrown, and when the story turns drug kingpins into Rambo-style heroes, things only get dumber.

Has no one explained to the filmmakers that in America’s real inner-cities, in places like Chicago, in places much more desperate than The First Purge’s Staten Island, millions of people (of all races) live with the temptation to risk it all for a lot more than $5,000? Gang-banging, drug dealing… Those options are always present, and almost all of the population refuse them. America’s inner-cities are populated with massive majorities of decent Americans who forgo easy money to go to work, to go to school, and to keep on with the keeping on.

The First Purge (Universal Pictures, 2018)

The First Purge, though,  would have us believe that a majority of black and brown people can be bought for $5000, are willing to let their neighborhoods be razed for $5000, will put their own children at risk for $5000. The fact that CNN’s Van Jones (a terrible actor, even when playing himself) would agree to participate in such a thing reveals as much about him as it does Hollywood’s limousine liberalism.

Moreover, The First Purge is desperate to slander the NRA, but in reality is a very effective, 90-minute super PAC ad lobbying in favor of the right to bear arms.

If there was ever a movie (or franchise) that proved the value and importance of the Second Amendment, that perfectly explained just how vitally important it is for a citizenry to be armed, The First Purge is it.

Dear Dumbasses: According to your own movie, the federal government is the villain, the good guys are citizens who would be helpless without the right to bear arms … which … is … exactly …what  … the … NRA … stands … for … did … I … mention … you… are … dumbasses?

This franchise started out with intelligence and a terrific concept. Set in the near-future of 2022, we entered a world where crime is legal for one night a year. Better still, the movie informed us that the whole idea behind the Purge worked. Within this universe, the annual Purge did dramatically improve society, did decrease overall crime. This gave us a fascinating moral dilemma, a complicated dramatic conflict, and as the series moved into parts two and three, it dove head first into this debate with fascinating twists and reveals.

But now it is all about race, about black versus white, and this has not only resulted in a patronizing racism, but moments so breathtakingly stupid, we are supposed to believe the KKK engages in machine gun fights without removing those pointy hoods. We are supposed to believe a gorgeous community organizer would venture out alone into a world where rape is legal. We are supposed to believe machine guns cannot penetrate drywall in a crumbling tenement.

Dumber still is the futility of it all. Thanks to the sequels, we already know the NFFA and their Purge last at least until 2040, so what exactly are we fighting for again?

All of this could be forgiven if the movie was half as competent, exciting, and tension-filled as its predecessors. Other than an extended fight in a stairwell, this one is just noise and so desperate, so divisive, and so lame there is actually a moment where a woman’s pussy is literally grabbed so she can call the guy a “pussy-grabber.” On top of the groans, I heard every eye in the theater roll back into its head.

I am firmly on record as a defender of left-wing movies, as a fan of a huge number of left-wing movies, and as a fan of the Purge series. But this sucker is dull, episodic, stupid, filled with thudding dialogue and, yes, a tad racist.


Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.


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