2019’s Escape Room made waves with its deadly puzzle premise. Evil corporation Minos builds elaborate puzzles, then takes bets from the unseen 1% on who will make it out alive. It’s a bit like Saw, but replace the torture porn with a more suspenseful, intellectual focus on problem solving.
The sequel, Tournament of Champions, sees our two survivors from the first film Zoey and Ben get dragged right back into the games again. This time, everyone in the room has played the game before – and won. But as they all know, only one person can escape again…
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions Review
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions kicks off with a very explain-y flashback sequence recapping the first film. It’s not exactly an action-packed opening scene, but it does contain plenty of information relevant to this sequel. So, points for not throwing the audience off into the deep end (though no points for execution).
After the slower-moving opening, Tournament of Champions kicks off a fast (at times frenetic) paced story. Much like how our team can’t linger too long in each room or risk sudden death, this movie doesn’t linger in its scenes. Once the action begins, you’re swept along from puzzle to puzzle. Arguably this can have the opposite effect on the suspense the movie wants to achieve. Since you so rarely get a moment to come back down from the previous adrenaline high, the tension doesn’t always feel like it’s escalating like it should. Still, I’ll say this: Tournament of Champions doesn’t really give you the option to feel bored.
In a movie about a series of deadly escape rooms, you want to know one key thing: How are the puzzles?
Well, they’re… alright.
The set design is definitely interesting here. The puzzle rooms include an actual subway car, an artsy-looking bank with vaulted ceilings, a cheesy beachscape, a mockup NYC street, and more. And of course, those all come paired off with some kind of deadly threat: electric shock, skin-slicing lasers, quicksand, and even acid rain.
They’re fun to look at, for sure. Each commits to the theme. I did find it strange that as they progressed, the rooms didn’t get harder though. The bank room, for instance, required way more steps and problem solving than the beach that follows it. At the end of the day, while the threat of danger appeared in each scene, I’m left wondering… were these challenges hard enough?
Tournament of Champions? Not exactly.
Probably where the film suffers the most is at its most basic premise: that this set of puzzles makes up the “tournament of champions.” Technically, this is true; Each unwitting player in this game previously fought and solved their way out of a deadly sequence of puzzles. They are by definition the “champions.”
But the movie never quite makes you feel like they are.
I guess the group overall is better at figuring their way out of the rooms than, say, people who have never done an escape room before. (They don’t all die immediately, basically.) But when you call an event a “tournament of champions”… Well, I expect to be impressed by what those champions can do.
What you want to see in this kind of movie is the captives outsmart their captors. You want to think the worst is going to happen because you – as the audience – can’t figure out how to solve the problem, only for one of the protagonists to come up with the way out at the last second. Escape Room: Tournament of Champions just never really makes that happen. I never had a big, “Oh!” moment of excited realization as a character connected the dots to make a difficult solve right before the clock ran out. Put simply, these characters are smart enough to solve puzzles and not die immediately, but not smart enough to fulfill that impressive “champion” role we were promised. The sequel promised raised stakes, but never really delivers.
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions premieres in theaters July 16.