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Blu-ray Review: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

October 27, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Director Adam Robitel’s 2019 film Escape Room wasn’t exactly great cinema, but it was still somewhat of a pleasant surprise. It was a guilty pleasure sort of movie that offered a decent amount of self-contained thrills in a short amount of time, playing out like a PG-13 riff on Saw.

It was successful enough to garner a second instalment, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, which sees Robitel returning to the director’s chair and about matches the first one in terms of escapist entertainment value. It’s now available on Blu-ray, with the disc notably including both the film’s theatrical version and a so-called “extended cut” that radically changes the narrative.

The bare bones remain the same in both. After surviving the cruel series of games in the first film, our protagonists Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) are determined to blow the cover on Minos, the shadowy company behind the deadly escape rooms that lock pre-selected strangers together in elaborate death traps. The two travel to the company’s headquarters in New York and end up on the subway, only to have the subway car transform into an escape room, plunging them into a new game.

They are matched with a whole new set of players; Rachel (Holland Roden), Brianna (Indya Moore), Nathan (Thomas Cockquerel), and Theo (Carlito Olivero). They soon discover that they have all played the game before, turning this into a, wait for it, Tournament of Champions. Like the first one, from here the film basically plays out as a collection of tense set-pieces that each have a ticking clock device as the characters race against time to solve a series of puzzles to get them to the next room. And the four main rooms (five in the theatrical cut) once again boast solid production design.

It’s a decent setup for a sequel to a film that ended on a cliffhanger, and both versions of this sequel open with a brief recap of major moments from the first one. The theatrical cut frames it around Zoey working through her recurring trauma with a therapist (Lucy Newman-Williams), and this version really focuses on her character arc of seeking justice for the people that she watched die in the escape rooms. But this is changed in the extended cut, which would be more accurately described as an alternate version.

Despite only being eight minutes longer (it’s 96 minutes as opposed to the theatrical’s lean 88), the back of the package boasts “over 25 minutes of all-new footage,” which is a pretty big tipoff that things will be different as opposed to just extended. While the middle section remains the same as the characters work through the first four rooms, the framing of the story has been completely changed, with entire scenes from the theatrical cut being removed and different sequences added to open and close the film.

The extended (alternate) cut instead sets up a new backstory involving Henry (James Frain), an inventor of the escape rooms, and his daughter Claire (Isabelle Fuhrman), which ties into a whole new finale. The therapist character has been taken out completely, and the film ends with a different cliffhanger than the one in the theatrical cut. Where things really get interested in the overarching timeline of both films is that the filmmakers now have two potential paths to follow in a third film.

The theatrical cut ties in more tightly to the first one, and has a sort of insular, “maybe everything’s a game” paranoia to it that worked for me, where as the extended version delivers a more convoluted backstory, and the new characters it introduces feel underdeveloped. I preferred the theatrical version myself, but I have read comments from fans who preferred the alternate cut, so I would recommend checking both out to decide for yourself.

Either way, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a decent piece of escapist entertainment, moving at such a pace that it’s hard to get too caught up in things like logic or believability. It hardly qualifies as great cinema, but, like the first one, this sequel is fun to watch for what it is. I would happily sit through another one of these, but which of the two cliffhanger endings presented here that any third instalment will choose to follow remains to be seen.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

Aside from the two different cuts of the film, which are presented on different menus that you can switch between, the disc also includes three featurettes that are the same for each cut. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which comes with a basic slipcover.

Dazzling But Deadly (5 minutes, 50 seconds): This featurette looks at what went into crafting the four main escape rooms in the film, and how they tried to make them different from the first one.

Game of Champions (5 minutes, 10 seconds): This piece looks at the different characters in the sequel, and the actors who play them.

Upping the Ante (3 minutes, 55 seconds): Finally, this featurette looks at building upon the first film to craft a bigger, more psychological (in the words of the director) sequel.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. The theatrical version is 88 minutes, and the extended cut is 96 minutes. Both are rated PG.

Street Date: October 5th, 2021

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