Escape the Undertaker (2021)
Director: Ben Simms
Starring: The Undertaker, Big E, Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods
WWE. World Wrestling Entertainment: a company so ingrained into the pop culture zeitgeist that upon the mere mention of professional wrestling, odds are that anyone’s immediate thought will be of Vince McMahon’s wrestling mega power. Now long past the heydays of Hulkamania and the Attitude Era, WWE ratings and pay per view buy rates consistently dip year by year and the last household name produced by Vince McMahon was that of John Cena, who debuted in a WWE ring almost 20 years ago. Recently, World Wrestling Entertainment have tried their hand at numerous ventures in an attempt to regrow their audience and make new stars, but perhaps the most interesting and arguably the most promising is the company’s partnership with Netflix, themselves a mega power in their respective medium.
Together, WWE and Netflix bring us Escape the Undertaker, an interactive film in which the WWE’s fan favourites The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E & Xavier Woods) attempt to steal the urn which holds the power of The Undertaker, a legend not only in the WWE but throughout the entire wrestling world. It’s upto you and The Undertaker to join forces, investigate The New Day and decide their fate.
To the uninitiated, such a scenario would make little to no sense, but the film does a very good job of introducing the characters, their lore and specifically the mythology of Undertaker’s urn; ensuring that even the newest of newcomers can keep up.
Right off the bat it must be stated that the production values of this project are noticeably high. Escape the Undertaker genuinely looks good, both in terms of the camera work and of the set design. This is weighed down by some very weak CGI and bad editing later on in the film, but for the majority of its runtime this 2021 Netflix release is rather pleasant to look at.
With the WWE’s target audience being young children in the year 2021, there is of course only so much one can expect from an interactive streaming film made in partnership with a billion-dollar live show and merchandise machine. That being said, the use of the interactive nature of Escape the Undertaker allows the film to remain simple enough for younger children to watch and play along with, all the while never talking down to the more mature members of the audience. Filled with genuinely funny humour, references to the company’s past and general winks to WWE’s main content, there is definitely something for everyone.
It is easy to write off Escape the Undertaker, or any film released through WWE, due to the fact that filmmaking is not their main area of expertise (and the past works of WWE Studios perfectly illustrate this) but so far as the actual use of the interactive experience goes, Escape the Undertaker is genuinely well made. Of course there are some silly options such as the opening decision between “I’m ready” and “I’m too scared”, and a few cheesy moments that happen as a consequence of certain interactions, but the options offered are generally varied and there are some tricky choices to be made, with all indicators suggesting that any choices you do make will actually have an impact on the rest of the story and the characters’ choices from then on out.
Perhaps the biggest downside within the interactions themselves is that upon choosing an option it jumps to the start of the new scene you have selected. Given that the selection scenes are mostly placeholders until you make your actual decision, this minor issue grows to create an overall product that is a lot less seamless than it could be.
Given that Escape the Undertaker has so few issues with its interactive elements and overall presentation, this latest WWE and Netflix collaboration must be considered a success. Is it likely to bring in new fans, or even bring old fans back? That’s doubtful. The very fact that the movie is based around 4 WWE characters immediately isolates anyone not in the know, and the limitations imposed by the young age of its target audience is likely to put off a number of people.
Sure it has it’s issues, but Escape the Undertaker exceeds any low expectations and can officially be considered a success. Fun and cheesy, this new WWE and Netflix original will be a joyful time few will be disappointed to spend thirty minutes with.