The first Escape Room, released in 2019, was basically a PG-13 version of Saw, with themed rooms and non-stop thrills. As much as I loved it, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is bigger and better than the original in just about every way you can imagine. It manages to remain faithful to the two surviving characters we grew to love, Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller), while thrusting them into a new scenario with a varied roster of interesting personalities.
Starting with a savvy edit of recap, we are reminded of the Minos Escape Rooms company, who specialize in people with a thirst for savagery. Run by some of the most powerful in the world who will pay big money to watch ‘contestants’ in a state of mayhem, Minos isn’t the most forgiving when it comes to their users who make it out alive. Zoey is seeing a therapist, and still haunted by the faces of her fallen comrades, particularly Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll) who plummeted to her death.
Amanda’s words of wisdom have kept Zoey going through the tragedy, clinging to a necklace left by her mother who died in a plane crash. Amanda told her: “when someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.” Zoey’s therapist tries everything she can think of to get her back on her feet again. Zoey has tried to fly to New York City with Ben at least three times now, and she always freaks out and bails at the last minute. “Everything becomes a clue”, her therapist implores, telling Zoey that she’s only seeing signs because she is paranoid in the throes of her trauma.
The easiest solution, since Zoey is so adamantly opposed to flying, is to travel to New York by car. In fact, Zoey and Ben decide to make a whole trip out of it! Their destination is an old abandoned government building, the location of which Zoey has decoded during the ending of the first film. During a pit-stop overnight stay at the Wayside Motel, Ben is haunted by a nightmare of the whole place being one elaborate room that will close in on him and crunch him down to nothing. An overhead shot from above the fan as the blades spin near Ben’s head is ominous and chilling. Seeing both characters haunted by their experiences makes them feel more real, and it’s a refreshing change from genre standards where it has been typically brushed aside in the past.
The real game this time around starts after Ben and Zoey arrive at the building. Merely five minutes into this trip, they are naturally mugged by a homeless man in NYC. They pursue him into a subway car, but he escapes just in the nick of time as the doors close on the duo. The conductor is missing, their train car becomes uncoupled from the others, and they end up in an abandoned station down some undetermined amount of derelict track.
Ben and Zoey, now trapped in the subway car, realize the other four people sealed inside with them are also survivors of Minos Escape Rooms. Each of the others had themes to their rooms, like Brianna (Pose’s Indya Moore) the travel blogger surrounded by a group of influencers, or drifter and former priest Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel) in a game with his fellow clergymen. My favorite of the new blood is badass Rachel (Holland Roden), who has the surprising quirk of not being able to experience physical pain. As in real-life escape rooms, they must work together to have any hopes of making it out alive—for the second time. The Quarter Quell from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire serves as obvious and fitting inspiration for Tournament of Champions.
The traps and different rooms are elaborate and intricate, rewarding special attention to detail. I had a blast trying to solve along with the characters. From an electrified subway train, there’s plenty more fun to be had here, including an “Art Deco bank of death” and an outdoor beach with a towering lighthouse. Keys hidden in lollipops, tiles with laser-grid activation, alphabetical puzzle-solving, and acid rain—Minos wasn’t playing around when it came to designing the game this go round. The architect behind it is surprising, and I was left in awe of the ending. It’s a knife-twist cliffhanger similar to the original movie, and one that makes me anxious for further exploration in the world of Minos.
The scripting isn’t groundbreaking or brilliant here, but if you’ve seen the first you already know not to expect high art. It does make time to mourn those that perish, giving a literal moment of silence. Good old-fashioned fun is exactly what I wanted, and returning director Adam Robitel accomplishes just that. This time around, there is a touch of Final Destination in with the Saw inspirations, mainly in both the subway sequence, and the epic finale. A sequel needs to up the ante, while being committed to established series lore and giving the audience more of what they loved from the first time around. Tournament of Champions delivers a knockout of an ending that leaves ample room for a Part 3, should they choose to go this route. Where do I sign up?
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions invites you to solve the puzzle, in theaters everywhere now.