(This article contains only the biggest of spoilers for “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions”)
“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” is nothing if not very fast-paced — it’s a movie that simply refuses to let you ponder what’s going on, because before you’re able to process a character’s death, for example, the film has already moved on to the next thing.
The “Escape Room” sequel catches up with Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) more or less where we left them: trying to live their lives while dealing with the trauma of their experiences in the first movie. Zoey is seeing a therapist who’s trying to get her to overcome her fear of flying — and who doesn’t seem to believe her story about the escape room.
But Zoey wants to face her fears a different way: by exposing Minos, the nebulous organization behind the deadly escape rooms. She convinces Ben to go to New York with her — by car, so we avoid the escape room from the very end of the last movie for now — and they investigate what looks a lot like the kind of place Minos would have an escape room, but now it’s empty.
So they take a ride on the subway from there, and it turns out their train car is an escape room. Everyone else there reveals they also survived a Minos room before — they realize this is the titular “tournament of champions.”
From there, things move so quickly that nobody, including the audience, will ever really have a chance to catch their breath. Characters die abruptly, sometimes even suspiciously. (While I was watching, I wasn’t sure if this was by design or if it was just the result of cutting the movie down to under 90 minutes, or some mixture thereof.)
Then we get to the ending. Ben is trapped in an airtight room that’s filling with water, and Zoey is confronted by Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll) — somehow still alive after apparently falling to her death in the upside down room in the first movie. She says Minos faked her death and then forced her to design this current game that Zoey is playing. And they want Zoey to design the next one, or they’ll kill Ben.
Zoey rejects the offer and manages, as always, to find a different way out. She, Ben and Amanda get out safely, manage to reach the cops — who give her a surprisingly quick report about how they’re already arresting Minos’ folks — and escape with their lives. Zoey is suspicious because it seems too easy. But Ben is adamant: this story is over, and it’s time to go home. Zoey decides to put a bow on things by taking a plane.
And now we finally get to the airplane escape room that we saw at the very end of the last movie. Though we don’t get to see how it plays out, because the movie ends with that reveal, and Zoey’s realization that everything that happened in New York was meant to get her to this point.
This ending invites so many questions. How many people does Zoey know who secretly work for Minos? Her therapist is a prime candidate because of how she basically demanded that Zoey take a flight at the beginning of the movie. Minos also used cues from that session, and a woman who looked exactly like the therapist from behind, let her know that the plane isn’t a normal flight. Is that because Minos was spying on Zoey, or was the therapist actually in on it?
Likewise, there’s reason to suspect Ben. In the flashback montage that we see as Zoey is realizing what’s going on with the plane, “Escape Room” reminds us how emphatic Ben was when he was trying to convince her that the whole thing was over. Is that just because he wanted so badly for it to be done with that he was deluding himself? Remember, he didn’t want any part of going after Minos — going home and pretending none of this ever happened is exactly the sort of approach he would take. But if he were Minos, he would also try to allay her fears so she would get on that plane.
And Amanda was key to the whole thing, and she certainly gave off a very suspicious vibe from the moment she appeared — like she was acting. Was that just nerves? Or was she playing a part beyond what she told Zoey? Could she actually be the mastermind behind this, or is it true that she was just another victim?
How deep does this thing run? Did the other contestants actually die? Neither Zoey nor Ben were able to check any of the bodies to confirm their deaths, and they could have been in on it.
This is gonna be tough for us to parse until a hypothetical third movie comes out, so I went straight to the source for answers: “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” director Adam Robitel.
The answer he gave, in short, is that there are no answers. Yet. While he does have plans for a third movie, those are subject to change — and for now, he thinks the ambiguity is part of the fun.
“The worst thing I think we could have done is, like, given everybody the answers,” Robitel told TheWrap.
“As much as people want to know, they don’t want to know. Like, as soon as you corporealize them and make them human, they become less scary.”
That said, Robitel did definitely want to expand what we know about Minos — just without going so far as to demystify them. We get a lot of these details at the end. For example, they’re powerful enough that they can at least create the illusion that they control a police precinct in New York, as well as spoof news broadcasts about cops taking down Minos.
We learn just enough extra details to know they’re probably a lot more powerful than we previously thought. They aren’t just about escape rooms — they may also have a hand in everyday life.
“For me, for a sequel to exist, I wanted to expand the mythology more. It was clear that we wanted a Zoey/Ben revenge story, and the idea that there is this Machiavellian force that not only is it about escape rooms but is punking people, is toppling world governments. I think coming out of this pandemic, the sense that maybe we have no agency over our own lives and that every choice that we make is potentially being influenced by somebody far more powerful was just kind of a cool hook for me,” Robitel said.
“They might cause plagues. They might cause governments to topple. And so taking its cues from a movie like Fincher’s ‘The Game,’ where everything becomes unreliable.”
Robitel said he liked the ambiguity because it really does make your mind run wild.
“Is she on a plane at the end, you know? Are they even conscious? Do they wake up in a factory like in a placental suit?” Robitel said, referring to those capsules the machines kept humans in in “The Matrix.”
“Does movie three pick up right on the plane, or is it going in a different direction? I like the idea of opening a movie with the people watching it, like the a–holes who actually watch these games, like they should be thrown into a escape room. Because they’re the real problem, right? They’re the rubberneckers, they’re the ones in the Coliseum watching the gladiators be fed to the lions. So let’s see them get their just desserts.”
Robitel didn’t shed any light on whether Amanda and/or Ben was involved with Minos, but he clearly likes the idea.
“I’d love to open a movie with Deborah Ann Woll smoking a cigarette, like, as the plane crashes behind her,” he told me. “And you could spin it that she is Minos.
“Is Ben Minos? Is Ben a long con? Shluppy Ben, is he actually Minos?”
As you develop your own theories about what went down in “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions,” you should keep in mind that Robitel did admit that, of course, he didn’t have final cut himself. The film’s relentless pace actually is, as I wondered, at least partially the result of studio input — the film was produced by Sony — rather than being fully the vision of the director or screenwriters. As is usually the case. Few filmmakers get true autonomy; studio input is simply part of the process.
“My director’s cut was 45 minutes longer. But you get into it with a lot of cooks in the kitchen and they’re like ‘cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.’ So at the end of the day, until I have director’s cut, I’m at the whim of the gentle chainsaw,” Robitel said.
Even so, it feels to me like it worked out, because the pacing plays so well with the nebulous but ever-present nature of Minos that Robitel and co. were crafting. And it ramps the paranoia way up. So in a way, it feels like with “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” that less really is more. Maybe even more so than Robitel expected.