Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions (2021)

OCTOBER 5, 2021


Something seemed "off" when I saw Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions in theaters over the summer, primarily that it didn't really open up any more about the world of Minos than was seemingly promised by the (overlong) conclusion of the first film. Not that I expected a full rundown, since it seemed Sony would love to have a new genre franchise and thus would need to space out such reveals to keep the story going, but it often felt more designed for people who hadn't even seen the first one, with a lengthy recap at the top (not just a repeat of the final scene like Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3, it's a full 90 second TV style refresher, missing only the announcer saying "Previously, on Escape Room!") and what amounts to a status quo reset, as if a third film could double as part 2 for anyone who skipped this one.

So I wasn't entirely surprised when Sony announced that the blu-ray would have an extended opening and ending, totaling 25 minutes of new footage. However it only ended up eight minutes longer than the theatrical version, so some stuff (and at least two characters!) do not appear in the longer version. This review will assume you have seen or at least have read a thorough synopsis of the theatrical version, so if that's not you, I'll just say that a. both versions are on the disc if you want to compare and b. the new cut is improved, though the film as a whole isn't as interesting/exciting as the original, due to both the usual sequel hurdles and an utterly baffling plot setup that goes far beyond my limits of acceptance for movie logic.

And alas, that doesn't change at all in this version: our "champions" are still coincidentally trapped on a public subway car that is disconnected and sent off track into a Minos labyrinth. That would have been fine if it was another group of random people, but the fact that they're all selected to have been there (they've all beaten Minos before) is just ridiculous even by these movies' standards. We see how returning heroes Zoey and Ben are lured there by a pickpocket, but what about the other four? Also, what if someone else was in that car? It was just a normally operating subway during a busy New York day - it's not only silly that these six champions were the only ones on it, but it's also kind of a missed opportunity. It would have been great to have five experts and one rando who had no idea what an escape room even was, let alone how to solve this one's much more difficult puzzles. Not only would it have been fun from a narrative standpoint, but it'd also allow them to meet us halfway with the giant leap of logic we're asked to take. Also, not for nothing, but wouldn't this have been a good idea for Escape Room 6, an Avengers-style meetup of all the previous films' survivors? The other four people are just random to us (and to Ben and Zoey), so their "champion" status ultimately doesn't mean anything. Zoey's still the one solving everything.

The rooms are pretty good; nothing as eye popping as the first one's upside down room, but the electrified subway car has a pretty good puzzle at its core (pulling the stop handles that correspond to each letter of the alphabet to solve a game of Hangman) and the laser-trapped bank vault are exciting and benefit from being the first two, when you're unsure who will die first. It's kind of a tradition to quickly kill off excess survivors in a sequel (think Dream Master wiping out Joey and Kincaid in the first reel, and then again in Dream Child with Dan), so Ben making an early exit wouldn't be a big shock, adding immensely to the suspense. Sometimes they rely a bit too much on the characters just simply knowing things off the top of their head (like what kind of plastic wouldn't melt with acid), but they are each great little setpieces and thankfully none feel like rehashes of the first film's games.

That said it just feels too similar as a whole to the first movie, which is where the lack of "inside Minos" stuff hurts a bit. Even the first film had more, technically, with the betting board and what not, backroom glimpses we don't get at all in the theatrical version and only get briefly in the alternate version. (Again, I am assuming you've seen the theatrical if you've read this far, so turn back now if you don't want any of it spoiled!) In the extended version, the film opens completely differently (except for the recap), showing three new characters, an unhappy couple and their daughter, with the mom (Tanya van Graan from The Empty Man, completely uncredited) seemingly wanting a divorce from the husband, who appears to be designing Minos escape rooms and is neglecting her and the daughter as a result. Mom is then trapped in one in her own home (a sauna puzzle that cooks her when she fails to solve it), and then we flash forward to the present day with Ben and Zoey planning their New York trip.

But in place of Zoey's psychiatrist scenes (the shrink doesn't appear in this new version), we get the grown up daughter, now played by the Orphan herself, Isabelle Fuhrman. Now she's seemingly trapped by her father and having to design games, and if you've seen the movie already and thinking "Wait, isn't that what Deborah Ann Woll's character was doing?" you are correct, and then you'll be sad to know that Woll doesn't appear either (despite still being credited). Fuhrman more or less fills that same narrative spot - meeting up with Zoey and asking for her help to design puzzles so that they can both be set free (with Ben once again trapped alone, albeit in a different one - he's in a sauna kind of like the mom instead of the flooded room), which I guess means if this is the canon version of the story going forward (if there is a 3rd film), Woll's Amanda is still dead.

It's an interesting choice to look back at; at some point they decided to omit Fuhrman and her family, and all the new wrinkles that came with their characters' reveals (the ending has a little twist to it I won't spoil here), and instead bring back a "dead" character for a movie that seems more designed for people who hadn't seen the first one anyway? Naturally, none of the disc's three brief bonus features shed any light on this decision, so we may never know why they decided to toss over a quarter of the film in favor of something less interesting, not to mention adding a pretty dumb epilogue (the plane scene, with Zoey hearing her psychiatrist's ringtone, was also added later and thus not in this extended version). They took a B grade movie and turned it into a C+, for... reasons?

At any rate, again, both versions are on the disc, so you can decide which one you prefer. I think the extended one is better, but that also leaves me in the undesirable position of saying "they weakened this movie by adding Deborah Ann Woll," i.e. someone who should be in every movie as far as I'm concerned. The aforementioned featurettes are all fluffy nonsense that you can live without, and if you've already seen the movie the new stuff doesn't drastically change the overall "eh, it's fine" feeling of it as a whole, so a rental to check out the long cut will probably suffice. If you haven't seen it yet, watch the extended one, then watch the theatrical and tell me which you prefer - I'm curious if I'm alone in thinking they should have gone with the one with Fuhrman all along. It definitely dips into more horror territory (in fact I could almost stretch this into another sub-genre! Hint hint!), so there's something that should appeal to anyone reading this.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. If you're going to have them all be champs, they could have done a lot more to show how they were affected by it. You have the one priest who's an alcoholic and questioning his faith and he recklessly tries to save everybody else and, if God wants to save him, God will save him. But that's the one guy.

    I've been on a lot of subways and only one person had a bag and there was nothing useful in it, apparently. Like on a normal day I have duct tape and superglue and gauze pads you could use to patch someone up. I often have a multitool, if I'm not going somewhere it'll be confiscated. Why wasn't there one person who's like hyperprepared with a kit? No one got super-into learning how to pick locks and has a deck in his wallet?

    No one other than our protagonists have tried to figure out what's going on? Maybe there could have been one guy who's like I knew you two were Escape Room veterans. That story in the press had all the earmarks.

    They never like pool their experiences to try to game things out or realize, oh, no, this is all new stuff none of us have seen before.


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