Starring: Taylor Russell (Lost in Space), Logan Miller (Love, Simon), Indya Moore (Pose), Holland Roden (Teen Wolf), Thomas Cocquerel (In Like Flynn), Carlito Olivero (Step Up: High Water)
Director: Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key)
Writer: Will Honley (Bloodline) and Maria Melnik (Escape Room) & Daniel Tuch and Oren Uziel (The Cloverfield Paradox)
Runtime: 1 hour 28 minutes
Release Date: 16th July (US, UK)
The original Escape Room was the textbook definition of a serviceable movie. It did nothing egregiously badly (OK, the ADR in that film was truly awful), but it didn’t do anything spectacularly well either. It was just a mildly entertaining roller coaster horror that moved from one sequence to the next, slowly stacking up the body count as each new frightening puzzle played out. It followed in much the same formula as Final Destination or Saw, and now the sequel Tournament of Champions takes another cue from those franchises by making a sequel that is essentially the exact same but bigger. In this case that sometimes means better, sometimes means worse, and sometimes doesn’t mean much at all.
Tournament of Champions is an extremely quick and efficient movie, clocking in at under 90 minutes including both end credits and a lengthy “previously on…” prologue. There is nary a second wasted, getting into the meat and potatoes of the action much quicker thanks to expedience of now knowing the basic scenario, but like the first it has very little going on under the surface. Once again, it’s ultimately about the spectacle of the escape rooms, and this time the imagination and tension of these puzzles has certainly been improved. The film blows its wad a little early by placing its standout sequence (an electrifying dash through a high-voltage subway car) up front, but even the worst rooms here are better than most of those in the first; that upside-down bar sequence in the original still takes the cake though.
However, those expecting any kind of satisfying plot intrigue or subtextual depth aren’t going to find any here. Despite the first film’s ending promising more insight into what’s going on behind the scenes at the mysterious Minos Corporation, the sequel reveals little we didn’t already know, and what revelations it does have just raise further questions. This all leads to an ending that seems clever at first glance, but on further thought basically makes nearly the entire story redundant and leaves our characters right back where they started. The best sequels add to their previous instalment and feel like a necessary continuation of the story, but unless the third film pulls something astonishing, it seems like you could easily skip from this one to that and basically not miss a thing. That…is not a good sign.
The characters in the first Escape Room served much the same purpose as they do in any horror movie: exaggerated, easily-distinguishable personalities to be picked off at the film’s convenience until only our heroes remain. Tournament of Champions comes in with an advantage in that we already know Zoey (Russell) and Ben (Miller), but they ultimately haven’t changed much since the first and don’t really develop further here either. If there’s any kind of character introspection, it’s that Zoey is incorruptible and determined to take down Minos no matter what, which may make her more noble but there are no stakes when there’s not even a consideration she may be tempted to give in.
Ben is at least less annoying and more competent here than he was in the first film, and it’s refreshing to see a male/female duo where a romance isn’t even suggested, but he serves little purpose other than to be Zoey’s cheerleader and a sounding board to her ramblings. Some of the new characters show promise, like Holland Roden (giving strong Clea DuVall circa The Faculty vibes) as a contestant with congenital insensitivity or Indya Moore as a traumatised influencer, but the film gives them and the other victims very little to do other than shout exposition. There is only one major character reveal I won’t spoil, and at first it shows a lot of promise in developing the story world, but it leads to very little other than a way of connect this film back to the original.
It’s a hackneyed saying but it’s true: if you liked Escape Room, you’ll probably like Tournament of Champions. On the whole it’s an improvement on the original: the scenarios are larger and more terrifying, the characters are less irritating and more rounded, and it’s simply a much breezier and more consistently entertaining ride. For most of its runtime, it comes close to getting a mild recommendation; nothing worthwhile for ardent cinephiles, but certainly the kind of fun, unchallenging movie you’d watch with a few friends over some pizza on a chill weekend. Unfortunately, it stumbles right at the last hurdle with an ending that makes the whole enterprise feel like a placeholder for the sequel the first film promised. At this point, the series needs to either invest in a compelling narrative or up the ante further to insane heights, because its engine is going to bust soon from going so fast at such a low gear.
FINAL VERDICT: 5.5/10