In 2019, Sony and director Adam Robitel released a film that seemed like it was primed for failure - Escape Room, a seemingly hokey January release most likely attempting to capitalize on the popularity of their titular sensation. Ultimately, while some of those criticisms did ultimately stand against the first film in this now-franchise, the movie went on to become a surprise hit and enthralled audiences, including myself, with the elemental nature of its PG-13 Saw thrills. The film also ended on a cliffhanger, leaving some interesting unanswered questions and intriguing possibilities, leading to 2021's release Escape Room: Tournament of Champions. Like A Quiet Place: Part 2 earlier this year, this sequel wisely understand that endless possibilities does not always mean tackling them all at once, and director Adam Robitel crafts a sharper, leaner, and still small-scale Escape Room film. Like its predecessor, the action and thrills clealry air on the side of silly, but the movie's cleverness and ability to create a cinematic sense on a concept so slight is actually quite impressive. In Tournament of Champions, Robitel goes all in on the traps, games, and twists, sometimes at the expense of the paranoia and human psychology that the first film banked on, but also manages to create a leaner and faster film in the process. Ultimately, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions doesn't truly transcend too much beyond its central conceits and contrivances, but the swift storytelling and clean-cut thrills make Escape Room: Tournament of Champions a fulfilling sequel that is better than the original.
The performances in the film tend to be a mixed bag - overall, the cast does a decent job of selling the situations, although lead Taylor Russell does most of the performative heavylifting. Unlike the first film, there is a considerably less focus on the characters and their psychology in this movie, and most of the performers mostly function as players that are set up in the film's fictional games. It might be one of the things that feels most lacking in this second film - whereas the first movie made for palpable paranoia and panic, this movie's constant focus on the bells and whistles takes away some of that more human touch.
What does make Escape Room: Tournament of Champions well, however, is its running time. Clocking in at 1h 28m, the film never outstays its welcome and doesn't feel stretched or drawn out - the movie makes use of its conceit with as much cleverness and trickery as it can, but knows when it's time for the action to stop. The length of the film feels particularly suitable given the major logical leaps that the film makes with its characters and plot - it's on the side of silly and cheesy, but not to the extent that things onscreen feel innane or completely unbelievable. Both films, and perhaps espescially this one, both benefit off cheap thrill but its Robitel and the screenwriters' ability to keep the thrills unexpected rather than hokey that makes the film work. Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is sharper than the first, though still a longshot from far better similar horror offerings, but it's a cinematic distraction that feels smarter and more amibitious than one might expect it to be. The content might ultimately be hammy, but the treatment of the story and its direction give it the level of sprucing it needs.
|Final Verdict:||Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a surprisingly sharper and swifter sequel that stills airs on the side of silly contrivance, but has enough cleverness and ambition to elevate its cheap thrills into something compelling.|