Friday, August 13, 2021

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions: Movie Review

Some insane action, but interesting rooms and compelling characters.

The premise of Escape Room works really well for a unique, original film. The first one pitted six strangers with one common link against one another in an unknowing game of life or death. That premise was really elevated by the focus on the psychology of the characters and their interactions. This sequel has forced six winners of past escape rooms together, including our two main heroes from the original.   2021

Directed by: Adam Robitel

Screenplay by: Will Honley, Maria Melnik
Daniel Tuch, and Oren Uziel

Starring: Taylor Russell, and Logan Miller

The action has been ramped up to an insane degree which does hurt how easily the audience could lose itself in the story, but the strength of the characters, especially survivor Zoey (Taylor Russell), helps propel us into each subsequent room.

The film opens with Zoey – very unsurprisingly – in therapy. Nobody believes her, she’s scared to go anywhere or do anything and she’s desperate for psychological help. If you’ll recall from the original, Zoey already suffered from survivor’s guilt – scared to speak up in class, not trusting herself, unable to make friends, scared that she’ll lose those closest to her. Surviving a literal game of life or death certainly didn’t help. But this Zoey is stronger, a few months removed for the escape room, she knows what she saw, she completely trusts herself, she’s determined to uncover the truth, and this time she has Ben (Logan Miller) by her side.

Taylor Russell is just as captivating in the sequel as she was in the first one, even more so since Zoey is less of a wallflower this time around. Logan Miller who was very exceptional in the first one (the filmmakers did a perfect job picking which two characters and actors would survive the first one and lead the second one), is unfortunately saddled with some terrible dialogue – he got all of the cliché action lines, including the horrendous “We’ve gotta get out of here!” more than once. But Miller’s Ben does offer Zoey what she needs – a friend who believes her, who will always trust her and will stand up for her among the other winners with the unfallible truth: “she’s the only one who saved someone other than herself.”

The first “room” is a runaway New York City subway train that has been electrified and sends jolts of electricity nearly killing most of them. Some rooms, namely the subway and the acid rain bodega, had a stupid amount of unrealistic action that really hurts the quality of the film, but the strength of the puzzles is still there, and there are psychological aspects that subtly show up throughout. Zoey’s therapist has suggested that she sees clues everywhere. That every random inanimate object has been converted into a clue in her brain. What if that is true? Zoey has that nagging doubt, about what is game and what isn’t the game.

Due to the increase in action, the character work isn’t as strong. They are mostly killed off in the correct order (the most annoying guy goes first), but I really liked Rachel (Holland Roden) and I wish we got to know her better. But the point of the movie is the escape rooms, and other than the insanity of the subway train, the rooms were all very creative and I particularly loved the intricacies of the bank room puzzle. The beach room had an interesting theme but they also made the background sound too loud and it quickly devolved into all the characters yelling at each other to hurry up.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions suffers from what so many sequels do, make things bigger and louder even though the story and concept is good enough without the added insanity. The twist ending: I figured it out right before Zoey did, which is a comfort knowing the filmmakers are still operating in reasonable ways and that Zoey is still herself. They have set themselves up nicely for an Escape Room 3, and I will be there for it, mostly because they have already won me over with Zoey and her friendship with Ben.