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‘Escape Room: Tournament of Champions’ is a thrilling addition to the ‘Escape Room’ series

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” is the second entry into the largely underappreciated “Escape Room” series. It is very easy to write off “Escape Room” as an unremarkable “Saw” clone, but the series and its characters have a certain charm that puts them above the rest.

“Tournament of Champions” follows our two surviving characters from the first movie, Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller), in their quest to prove the existence of the mysterious sinister Minos Corporation. Unsurprisingly, the two find themselves trapped in a similar perilous series of escape rooms with a new group of strangers. As they make their way out of a slew of puzzles, some light is shed on the dastardly organization tormenting our protagonists. 

A major difference between this film and the original is that “Tournament of Champions” is far more protagonist-centric and involves Zoey and Ben working towards larger goals than simply surviving. This change has pros and cons. Much of what made the first movie so special was how weird and compelling these random individual characters were and the unique dynamic that occurred as a result. None of the side characters in “Tournament of Champions” are nearly as memorable or ultimately important. Still, our protagonists are well-designed likable characters that keep the audience entertained and hoping for a good outcome. Plus, as is easily observable in the “Saw” franchise, when a series does not define a clear end goal and has minimal overarching characters, it tends to meander and lose any initial charm quite quickly. So the avoidance of a completely new cast going through a glorified redesign of the first movie was the right choice for this series.

This film also sees the addition of more palpable villains. Minos is no longer a group of faceless architects—it is a company with a boss and lackeys and people to blame for the torture chambers through which the movie travels. While this plot was not fleshed out nearly enough, it created an interesting, possibly unintentional feeling, of falling into the middle of a different movie. The audience experiences over an hour of escape room content and then suddenly, we are in a spy thriller with named characters who have relationships that we have no context for, and conflicts are actively occurring with little to no setup. The out-of-place feeling these new villains created was not necessarily bad. It was a dramatic shift in aesthetic and it efficiently drove the plot forward without giving an exposition dump. But there are about 10 minutes of utter confusion as the audience regains their footing in what exactly is happening. 

A central appeal of the first “Escape Room” is how it looks. To pretend either film is any sort of high-brow cinema would be a disservice to the film and anyone who watched it. It is not pretentious or artsy in any way, but it does take itself seriously and one area where that really shows is the sets, the lighting and the aesthetic of any given scene. In “Tournament of Champions” the physical rooms from which our characters are trying to escape are designed brilliantly. Every room looks and feels entirely different because the movie knows how to set each area. From a subway car, to a bank, to the beach, to a block of New York City each room feels so complete and detailed, which alongside the wonderful variety in music, makes each room individually memorable. The separate puzzles in each room as well are skillfully designed to be difficult to solve and thrilling to watch, while simultaneously including the audience and allowing us to find hints the characters often never see. There are about a dozen movies called “Escape Room” that all follow the same formula, but the creativity of architecture in this highest budget version of an escape room movie puts it high above the rest. 

A slight disappointment in “Tournament of Champions” was the lack of backstory weaved into the individual escape rooms that we got in the first movie. With this escape room saga being a “tournament of champions” and thus made up of players who had already, presumably, completed Minos escape rooms based on their lives, it made sense in the logic of the film to leave out additional backstory in each room, but for the sake of the new side characters, it felt like a loss. An eternal struggle in any storytelling narrative is how to make the audience sympathize with characters the story dedicates minimal time to and this film could not quite figure out how to do that outside of some dramatic deaths.

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” may not match the quality of its predecessor, a film I have personally seen upwards of six times, but it still did not disappoint. The story is solid, the puzzles are enthralling, and most importantly the film captures that special “Escape Room” look. “Tournament of Champions” was a fine addition to a franchise that probably should not go longer than three films.

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