Review: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

By Christian DiMartino

Remember Escape Room from 2019? Yeah, I barely do too, but I do remember that the ending set up a sequel, and since we clearly all wanted it, now we’ve got it. At the time of watching the first film, I hadn’t been to an Escape Room. Since then, I’ve been to a few, and honestly it’s pretty fun. I’m usually pretty impressed, not just by the fact that I’m able to use my brain (if you haven’t gathered, I’m not the brightest), but also because of the amount of thought and creativity that went into making them. It’s kind of like a whodunit- I could never write one, but I’ll usually be impressed by whoever does.

A similar thought occurred to me during Escape Room: Tournament of Champions. It’s clear that the screenwriters didn’t really care about devoting the time to the characters (the first film, I suppose, did enough of that, maybe), but rather, they put their energy into the main event: the escape rooms. From what little memory I have of the first film, Escape Room 2 is pretty similar. Also, from what little memory I have, I went into it expecting it to be awful, perhaps even wanting it to be awful, and yeah, it was awful. Yet something must have come over me recently- a certain level of unusual kindness- and on the merit of the escape rooms themselves… I kind of found myself getting involved in this film. It’s crap, to be sure, but by the end you’ll leave thinking, “that was crap, but fun crap.”

Taylor Russell, who was brilliant in Trey Edward Shults’ Waves, returns as Zoey. As the film opens, we see footage from the first film, filling us in and bringing us up to speed. It ended with Zoey and Ben (Logan Miller) escaping, and planning on hunting down the maniacal bastards behind… Milon? Milos? I don’t know, whatever organization runs these sinister life or death escape rooms. What’s interesting about the first few minutes of Escape Room 2 is at first I was thinking, “wow, they really didn’t have the confidence in the audience to remember Escape Room.” Then I remembered that they decided to make a sequel in the first place, and had the confidence to set it up in the first film.

Zoey and Ben decide to head to New York to track them down, and sure enough, they’re lured into another life-or-death game of escaping. This time though, they’re teamed up with a group of other fellow winners- hence the champions in the title- and they must race against the clock to escape. There’s a set-piece on a subway train, a bank, a beach, and so on, and I was pretty impressed by the production design. It’s weird, I never really cared about whether or not these people made it out, mostly because I didn’t care about these people, in general, but the amusement stems from the details- in the clues and in the intricate production design.

Impressive as the film looks, a film like this always leaves me to wonder: do the people who set up these traps have anything better to do? Seeing as my knowledge of the first film is nearly absent, I’m not quite sure why these poor saps have to escape yet again. Yet look at the effort and detail that have gone into these clues and traps- it’s kind of like Saw, yet without the blood, and it’s not very good. To stem from this subject, who do they hire to build these rooms, and what explanation do they provide when hiring them? Reminds me of whoever had the honor of building The Batcave- how the hell do you keep that a secret?

The problem with a film like Escape Room 2, like its predecessor, is that most of us critics approach it knowing it’s a mediocrity. We sense that a movie with this concept and without a cast of well-known stars, surely can’t be good. We either approach the film wanting to have a good time, or wanting to have a bad time. With the first film, I probably wanted to have a bad time. With this film, I sort of did too, and yet I found myself oddly caught up in it. It’s silly and totally ridiculous, and now they’re expanding this series as if it’s The Truman Show or something, but it’s undeniably amusing.

It is also, it must be said, a film that suffers from its characters. Yes, we know that the majority of these thinly-drawn people aren’t meant to have in-depth character traits, yet if you’re going to place them in danger, shouldn’t they be given something of a personality? Instead it feels like a lot of the dialogue consists of, “This is not good!” and, uh, no s**t. This series could also benefit from a sense of humor. Take a movie like Truth or Dare– it was utterly horrible, and unintentionally hilarious, because it actually expected us to take its concept seriously. Here you have a death-defying game of escaping, and sure it’s kind of fun, but think about it: there is an evil organization going out of their way to set up these elaborate, extreme escape rooms. The silliness is plain to see, but the filmmakers have yet to see it. I bet they can hatch up a killer game of hopscotch, too.

At the end of the day though, this film, like escape rooms themselves, are designed to pass the time. Escape Room 2 doesn’t necessarily pass the time well, but I’ve passed the time in worse ways. The film builds to yet another non-conclusion, throwing in a few last minute twists and setting up yet another movie. It doesn’t really work, but I had a better time here than I had at The Forever Purge. This might be stupid, and unnecessary, as is the idea that this concept will be turned into a trilogy, but it’s at least somewhat fun, and on a scorching hot summer’s day, it’s passable.

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