Let’s get it out of the way: the best thing about The Terminal List is listening to Chris Pratt’s tough guy voice. It sounds like when Starlord imitates Thor. The second best thing is Taylor Kitsch, though even he wears out his welcome. The rest of the series is a libertarian paintballer’s ultimate revenge fantasy; a grim, chaotic, and nonsensical journey into domestic terrorism. Worst of all, it’s boring.
Chris Pratt is Lieutenant Commander James Reece, an all-American good ol’ boy and SEAL squad commander. Reece is leading a mission in Syria to capture or kill a chemical weapons scientist when they’re suddenly ambushed by enemy soldiers and ultimately blown to hell when a frightened soldier triggers booby traps. Reece’s squad of indistinguishable bearded special forces cannon fodder are all killed, and Reece is left with survivor’s guilt, headaches, and memory problems, presumably from head trauma. Despite being unable to tell what memories are real and which are false, he’s convinced there’s a conspiracy afoot, that they were set up and the command chain hid what really happened to his men. His wife finally convinces him to get a CAT scan but he’s attacked by assassins at the clinic. Tragedy strikes, and soon Reece is on a path to revenge against corrupt military officers and evil pharmacologists, aided by reporter Katie (Constance Wu), CIA buddy Ben (Taylor Kitsch), and former comrade Liz (Tyner Rushing).
I’m not sure when I figured out exactly how screwed I was with this self-imposed assignment. Probably by the opening scene when Chris “I’m not that religious” Pratt tells a story from the Book of Judges about how God told Gideon to choose only soldiers who kept their eyes open and alert. It segues into his entire team getting murdered when they fall for an ambush, so … maybe not the best example? I definitely knew by the time Reece’s wife and daughter, literally and figuratively the only bright spots in a show visually so flat and badly lit it makes the few daylight scenes feel like a night in Sunnydale, are unnecessarily fridged. Apparently the deaths of all but one of his friends aren’t enough to send Reece on a revenge mission, so the writers kill his family too. It’s the first of several unnecessary twists that left this viewer unsatisfied, culminating in a truly terrible one by the end.
I don’t dislike Pratt. He’s Worst Chris, but for me that’s more a statement on how much I like Pine, Evans, and Hemsworth than any animosity I have for Pratt. I don’t care about his love life, I’m not on Insta, and apart from The Terminal List I only know him from the MCU where he saved the universe by punching Thanos and as the guy James McAvoy smacked with a keyboard in Timur Bekmambetov’s 2008 masterpiece, Wanted. And I love ridiculous “one man against the world” movies, including Taken, Walking Tall, and Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter. In fact, it might be best to think of The Terminal List as a dim, dull, unnecessarily drawn-out remake of that far superior movie. Fuqua even directed the first episode. They share the same structure; a military sniper betrayed by his government at the behest of powerful, shadowy corporate entities, who survives and goes on a hunt for his enemies. It’s the same libertarian fantasy that one man with enough firepower can stand up against the world. But Mark Wahlberg, for all his flaws, didn’t try to butch up for the role. Bob Lee Swagger was deadly and soft-spoken. A professional. The action was well-shot and easy to follow. The story, however implausible, made some kind of sense.
None of that applies here because The Terminal List doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it about corporate greed? Government corruption? Military incompetence? The betrayal of our front-line soldiers by corporations with vested interests? It’s impossible to tell because everyone from the Secretary of State to military officers and even Reece’s contemporaries are all bad guys. The Terminal List fails even as a jingoist advertisement for the Navy because not only is the corruption endemic in both the public and private sector, but everyone is terrible at what they do. It’s not even about the brotherhood of enlisted men, because they all die within 15 minutes, and any urgency about discovering why is overshadowed by the deaths of Reece’s wife and child.
The other most obvious property to compare it to is Prime’s recent Reacher adaptation. In fact, The Terminal List is what I was afraid Reacher would be. But Alan Ritchson is a believable tough guy. The story, though grim, was not without its moments of dark humor. Crimes are investigated, rather than the protagonist relying on torture to get information.
Chris Pratt desperately wants us to believe he’s a pretend tough guy, but he launches directly into self-parody and stays there. At one point, a merc refers to Jai Courtney’s CEO character as a military fanboy. Pratt the actor feels like a LARPer in the same way as Courtney’s character. His voice is the equivalent of my 7yr old pretending to be me. His attempts at solemnity are delivered in the same monotone as everything else. His face bounces between wide-eyed shellshock and an emotionless mask that rarely cracks into something relatable. The few times Pratt shows an emotional reaction, such as when he admits to his wife he needs medical help, or when he finds his family’s bodies, speak to a show that could’ve been so much better had they leaned into the paranoia and uncertainty. By immediately confirming Reece’s conspiracy theories The Terminal List banishes any doubt about his mental state, turning his frequent headaches and hallucinations into a cross to bear rather than adding complexity to his character. All that’s left is to watch Katie investigate while Reece, Ben, and a few others lure bad guys into kill zones. Reece goes full domestic terrorist to do so, murdering human traffickers, private citizens, government officials, and military officers alike, and avoids killing innocent soldiers only thanks to luck. As I said, it’s hard to know who to root for when everyone is a monster. Well, not everyone. Katie isn’t, and to give the show credit Constance Wu is given room to stretch her legs a bit. But the dialogue is cut from every terse action movie and nothing you haven’t heard before. I can’t emphasize how badly lit the show is. My eyes still work great and I’ve used multiple devices; it’s just bad.
Worst of all, The Terminal List is so by-the-numbers that it’s boring. The action scenes feel like COD: Black Ops: The Movie. I was so bored that after marathoning the first 3 episodes in the hopes of something catching my attention, I took a full two weeks to finish the series. Absence did not make the heart grow fonder.
Ultimately, The Terminal List was better as a 2-hour movie starring Mark Wahlberg and Michael Peña. Decent supporting turns by Wu and Kitsch can’t save it, and Pratt never stopped pretending to be a badass long enough to convince me he was one. It’s bleak visually and emotionally and by the final credits, I envied the swift death granted to some characters. At least they got out before the end.
Header Image Source: Prime video screenshots