In his new Amazon series, “The Terminal List,” star Chris Pratt resembles a brick wall and possesses roughly half as much charisma. His character, James Reece, is on a Charles Bronson-like mission of vengeance against the forces that ambushed his Navy SEAL platoon in the field and permanently ruined his family life at home (with his wife played, mainly in flashback, by a wildly overqualified Riley Keough, and his daughter by Arlo Mertz). Reece guts foes with an axe and forces them to walk, watching as they stagger; or axes them in the head, or shackles their family and strands them on an island in a rising flood; or…
This is a dreary, dismal picture that would have been difficult to endure as a two-hour film but has been strangely extended to eight hours.
(On film, one or two murders may have had to be omitted, and the success of this effort is plainly measured by the number of deaths.) Adapted from a novel by Jack Carr, “The Terminal List” is an impressive vanity project executively produced by Pratt and others.
By removing the names from his character’s namesake list, Pratt is liberated from the load imposed elsewhere, allowing him to be charming, clever, and humorous in the midst of turmoil. Pratt’s sole obligation is to mete out retribution to those who murdered first his men and later his ladies; in fact, he says, “I am justice” shortly before stabbing one of his never-ending parades of adversaries.
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To a subset of viewers, he will undoubtedly appear the part: Pratt, who portrayed a SEAL in “Zero Dark Thirty,” a former Green Beret in “The Tomorrow War,” and a Navy veteran in the “Jurassic World” movie, has worked hard throughout his career to be perceived as the face of American strength.
Here, this power is best utilized to eliminate both internal and external enemies: Defense contractors are subject to penalties, as are (sigh) Mexican drug cartels.
Reece’s story is bleak, and it’s made plain that he’s fighting both the establishment and for retribution, but if the purpose of this series was to desensitize us to military violence, it could not have been executed more brilliantly.
Given that the conspiracy against Reece is drawn from many powerful quarters, it would not be unreasonable to expect some commentary or critique in the mix, as can be read into mainstream entertainment like Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” — a film about the accomplishments of a military superstar and the ways his time in war caused him pain.
However, “The Terminal List” is too obscured by self-conscious darkness to provide much insight. From Reece’s perspective, the world is divided between those one defends and that one kills, with no room for compromise. He cannot allow personality, spark, or insight – the characteristics that make us human — to endanger his goal.
Consequently, the remainder of the project is sucked into a Pratt-sized vacuum. Constance Wu, who portrays the journalist attempting to disclose what happened to Reece’s team and his family, is not where she belongs, and she appears to be aware of it: She’s so successful elsewhere that she’s plodding through scenes.
(What a shame that Wu and Jeanne Tripplehorn, two performers of intuitive warmth and sharp wit, share moments inside the context of a reporter lecturing the Secretary of Defense in a poorly written scenario.)
Taylor Kitsch, who portrays Reece’s best friend, is underutilized, if only because his sorrowful eyes convey the true price of war.
Infrequently, Pratt attempts to depict trauma and tiredness — in one ill-advised image, he emerges from a reverie and strives to reset his face, as if to convey how a soldier returns to the battlefield — but his attempts are unsuccessful. We don’t feel the character requires time or effort to return to murdering because Pratt appears to be having so much fun portraying He-Man.
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The result is kitsch, a sentimentalized image of wartime and how it purifies the psyche and wipes the slate clean. Possibly the most illuminating scene in “The Terminal List” is one in which uncontrolled violence erupts in the streets of San Francisco, as a result of citizens being caught between men who wish to play war. (This scenario appears to be a fantasy of violent conflict on American soil, a means of bringing war home that carries no real weight because it occurs between countless other instances of extreme violence.)
At the conclusion of this scenario, Pratt visually dominates his episode’s antagonist by being shot from below. And then he shoots him in the head without ceremony. Why complicate things? When you are certain in your good cause, any display of force will suffice.
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What Makes the Terminal List So Divisive?
According to the show’s producer, Jack Carr, one of The Terminal List’s worst flaws is that it positions itself as “anti-woke” and as a representation of the far right.
Is the Terminal List a Quality Show?
The Terminal List is a shiny but mindless long-weekend indulgence. It is difficult to sell, if only because of the murky cinematography of the action or the continuously gloomy plot. The Terminal List vastly outstays its welcome and gives a few moments of memorably thrilling action.
How Many Episodes Does the Terminal List Contain?
Prime Video has all eight episodes of The Terminal List available to stream. Check out the series trailer and official synopsis down below. “As he investigates the mysterious forces behind the murder of his whole platoon, Lieutenant Commander James Reece turns to vengeance.