Plot: Based on the best-selling novel by Jack Carr, The Terminal List follows James Reece (Chris Pratt) after his entire platoon of Navy SEALs is ambushed during a high-stakes covert mission. Reece returns home to his family with conflicting memories of the event and questions about his culpability. However, as new evidence comes to light, Reece discovers dark forces working against him, endangering not only his life, but the lives of those he loves.
Review: The Terminal List is the type of story that we have seen many times before. Revenge is an easy concept to adapt for the screen and seeing characters exact it has made for some of the best heroes and anti-heroes of all time. From Jason Bourne to the Taken movies, vengeance always makes for solid entertainment. With Chris Pratt in the lead and acclaimed director Antoine Fuqua helming the first episode, The Terminal List has all the makings of the next great action series. The only problem is that it is woefully dull and never musters enough out of some interesting plot elements to justify its existence. As much as I wanted to love this show, The Terminal List is surprisingly bland despite some brutal on-screen violence and a solid performance from Pratt.
Based on the 2018 bestseller by Jack Carr, The Terminal List adapts the first in a five-book series. Told over eight episodes, this series benefits from having Carr’s real-life experience as a Navy SEAL inform the realism of the story. While it crosses into storytelling elements that could only exist in fiction, The Terminal List has an air of reality few military-themed stories are able to execute. From the opening operation that kicks off the story to the PTSD elements that influence the characters when they get home, this series invokes a gritty feel that echoes films like Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor, and American Sniper. It is the more over-the-top elements of the conspiracy-laden plot that show some of the weaker elements of the story. Once the tale crosses into a Bourne-esque labyrinth of shell companies, nefarious CEOs, and two-faced politicians, The Terminal List begins to lose momentum.
Watching the trailer for the series, one would think that The Terminal List is an action-packed thrill ride of a series. While the action seen in that glimpse all does happen, it is spread out across the season in sporadic bursts. The first episode of the series opens with Operation Odinsword, which goes poorly and results in the death of twelve Navy SEALS. Lt. Commander James Reece (Chris Pratt), the commanding officer on the mission, is sent home and struggles to reconcile his memory of what happened with the official record. So begins his descent into a complex conspiracy that he feels was orchestrated to use his men as scapegoats. As the story progresses, we are left to wonder if what is happening is real or part of something wrong inside Reece’s mind. Enlisting his friend Ben Edwards (Taylor Kitsch) and reporter Katie Buranek (Constance Wu), Reece begins a campaign of violent and systematic retribution to uncover the perpetrators behind the deaths of his colleagues.
As I watched the first episode of The Terminal List, I immediately noticed that Antoine Fuqua brought two things to set the tone and style for this story. First, the action is filmed in a visceral and brutal way that makes every punch, every stab, and every bullet hit hard. The blood flows freely on screen and you can almost feel it. But, that is where the second Fuqua trademark comes in: this show is dark. Tonally, yes this plot is very bleak and very dark, but visually it is hard to make out a lot of what is happening on screen. Much of the first episode is shrouded in shadows and nightfall and limited lighting makes what is happening on screen virtually impossible to fully appreciate. A well-choreographed fight sequence midway through the premiere episode is slightly better lit but suffers from limited visibility. Later episodes feel about the same as other directors, including Sylvain White, M.J. Bassett, Tucker Gates, Ellen Kuras, and Frederick E.O. Toye emulate Fuqua’s lead.
Created by David DiGilio whose prior credits include the Paul Walker family movie Eight Below and the short-lived series Traveler, The Terminal List starts to set up some interesting plot elements that either fizzle out quickly or serve as red herrings for the big twist that comes in the season finale which sets up the subsequent novels as follow-up seasons should audiences warm to this tale. The problem comes from the fact that while there are lots of elements reminiscent of the Jack Reacher novels and adaptations as well as Marvel Comics’ The Punisher, The Terminal List is so focused on realistically portraying the military aspects of the story that it fails to make anything all that entertaining to watch. If there was a way to make The Punisher boring, The Terminal List would be it.
While Chris Pratt shows he has what it takes to be a serious leading man who doesn’t need to rely on smart-ass dialogue, his performance is one of the lone saving graces for The Terminal List. I really enjoyed seeing Taylor Kitsch get a substantial role and his repartee with Pratt makes for some of the better moments in this series. Jeanne Tripplehorn and Constance Wu are both good and do what they can with their screen time, but so much of what comprises this series follows the pattern of Reece finding a name to cross off the titular list which involves a calculated plan harnessing his military training followed by a burst of violence before moving on to the next name on the list. The Terminal List likely would have worked far better as a feature film or maybe a limited series of no more than four to six episodes. As it stands, this story is overlong and ploddingly told and somehow makes revenge feel bland and boring.
The Terminal List premieres on July 1st on Prime Video.