Escape Room: Tournament of Champions: Not So Deadly Games
Minos are back and ready to torment a not so new group of puzzlers with their deadly escape rooms. The ending of 2019’s Escape Room lent itself heavily to a sequel with the two winners of the ‘sole survivor’ game, Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller), poised to be flung back into the game for the entertainment of the creeps watching behind the cameras. This promise comes to fruition with Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, the 2021 sequel that positions the surviving protagonists of the first film with the ‘winners’ of other themed games to once again fight for their lives in a whole new set of elaborate and deadly rooms.
Zoey is visiting a therapist and dealing with her PTSD, not just from the tragic loss of her mother in a plane crash but also her torment from Minos in their escape rooms. She is determined to get the world to believe her about this shady underground society that exploits and tortures contestants for the amusement of an elite group watching. Alongside her is fellow survivor Ben, who may not be as willing to venture back into this world, but is loyal to Zoey for saving his life. The two head to Manhattan to peek behind the curtain and find the evidence they need but instead they find themselves once again under the control of Minos and back in the game.
Trapped in an electrified subway car Zoey and Ben soon realise that their four fellow passengers are also survivors of these escape rooms, influencer Brianna (Indya Moore), nerve damaged Rachel (Holland Roden), ex-priest Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel) and hearing impared husband Theo (Carlito Olivero). It’s an ‘all star’ game, bringing back those who had already survived and making them battle for their lives once again. As Rachel points out, “So what is this, like a tournament of champions?”, in a moment that had me excited about a character saying the name of the film, but also worried that this was the level of exposition in store for us throughout the rest of the piece.
Unlike the first film, Tournament of Champions doesn’t really allow for the characters to be developed, making it hard to care for them in the same way audiences did for Amanda, Mike and Danny, or even hate them like Jason. In my review of Escape Room I commented that the opening gave away who was important and who wasn’t, and that seems to be entirely the same here as Zoey and Ben are still going to be our leads and the rest cannon fodder, but this time they’re not even well developed cannon fodder. This lack of development causes the third act to become quite stagnant, even for our leads whose mission based narrative becomes tired as the plot progresses.
“The formula stays firmly in place with the inevitable loss of players through these traps, but even this element seems slightly watered down from the original.”
Don’t worry if you haven’t revisited Escape Room for a while, this sequel begins with a heavy handed ‘previously on’ segment that seems a little on the nose and strangely more at home in the world of television than the beginning of a feature film. Flashbacks are littered throughout the film, signposting everything and really spoon feeding the audience with information. After watching the full film these features could have been used in a much more deliberate way, perhaps showing us elements of the other themed escape rooms and what the previous victors had gone through. At least then we may have cared more when they inevitably died. I for one would love to see the R-Rated spin off of Rebecca’s escape room, but maybe that would take away from what this franchise intends to be.
Of course, the real star of the film is the production design and deadly traps of the rooms, and Tournament of Champions really shines when it focuses on these intricate set pieces. A quicksand covered postcard image of a beach, an art deco bank vault with lasers and a neon drenched New York street are beautifully designed and used against our champions to test their deduction skills. Director Adam Robitel brings out the time tension of each puzzle and makes sure the peril felt in the first film still lives on in the sequel. The formula stays firmly in place with the inevitable loss of players through these traps, but even this element seems slightly watered down from the original.
Then, just as it did for me in the first one, the twist just decides to cancel everything. Once again we end with a ‘cliffhanger’ set up for another installment with parts of the first film being retconned to allow this and therefore removing the peril of previous games. It slows down the momentum and takes a sharp turn that may, or may not, pay off in a third film but did very little to enhance this sequel. When Tournament of Champions embraces its premise and focuses on the time tension challenges the contenders face it’s a genuinely fun watch, but when it traps itself in the threads of its own plot it becomes quite silly and unfocused. Hopefully, the next game takes this franchise up a level and delivers on its potential.