Director Adam Robitel
Screenplay Will Honley, Maria Meinik, Daniel Tuch, Oren Uziel
Starring Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Wolf, Holland Roden, Indya Moore, Thomas Cocquerel, Carlito Olivero, Isabelle Fuhrman, James Frain, Tanya van Graan

Escape Room is one of those “can the smart teenager figure it out” types of films that is fun for the time it last and disappears from the mind as soon as the credits roll. That those credits are preceded by the survivors (Russell and Miller) proclaiming they’re going to go after the people behind the deadly rooms is brought quickly to mind in the first few minutes of Escape Room: Tournament of Champions. We see a very quick rundown of the first film, with special emphasis on Wolf’s statements on having a child she wanted to get back to before she falls seemingly towards her doom. How this event is handled in both versions of the story varies wildly.

Most of the films second act remains the same. The trap rooms lead to decisions to be made and lead to the discovery that each of the “contestants” are returners that “won” their first round. They all also happen to have occurred in the year since Russell’s Zoey became the first winner. There is a certain amount of ingenuity to the films, but a lot more shouting and there are so many clues it feels entirely random that they figure some of the stuff out at all.

The main differences between the theatrical and extended editions take place in the first and last acts. The first act to the extended edition shows a flashback to the family of a maker, where there is some obvious tension between the parents (Frain and van Graan). We are given one impression at first, and the table turns later.

The last act has two entirely different reveals, depending on the film. The extended edition has a bookend to the flashback, tying the game maker as an unlikely pawn. This interesting take doesn’t quite line up with everything we’ve seen before. It also does not show anything of Wolf’s character. Thereby it is a completely different resolution.

The theatrical version ignores the parents and their child (Fuhrman). It has a call back to the first film, a different final puzzle, and, essentially heads right into what is inevitably part 3.

As a film, the extended edition works a bit better, even if it presents less of a jumping off point. The version they decided to release in theaters is mostly a rushed frustration. There is a sense of sameness that pervades by the fact that the characters worked their way through maze after maze, only to find themselves in just another maze. Great.

That said, Russell is just as easy to watch as she is in the first part. She has a pluckiness that gives the viewer a different view if we can ignore the screaming and panic of the other characters. If they’d found a way to make this more of a thing, then we would have something more than we have, which is essentially an 88 minute appetizer for the inevitable next film.

Neither version of the story is a bad film, if you like the intesity solving puzzles before doom strikes. Only the extended edition comes to the level of the original. If you are looking for fun in characters who are pawns in a bigger game, you will like both versions, but will be confused that they are considered different versions of the same film.

Theatrical (** out of *****)
Extended Edition (*** out of *****)

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