Last year, Chris Pratt showed up in The Tomorrow War. A bland-looking cookie-cutter sci-fi actioner from Amazon Prime. That bland visual look from Amazon is back along with Chris Pratt to deliver a rock’em sock ’em nauseating vengeance trip where the violent ends barely justify the means.
This is the meat and potatoes, airport paperback style of Amazon’s previous J.R. series (Jack Ryan and Jack Reacher) only with the violence turned 11 and politics shifted far right into pro-torture Dick Cheney territory. I am all for a good torture scene and am not easily queasy. But when the connection to the torturer and victim is tenuous at best and we haven’t seen the victim do anything particularly nasty or even be taken seriously, it’s not as fun to watch. Take for instance similar material in American Assassin.
In that film, the torturer (Taylor Kitsch, also in The Terminal List) is confronting his former CIA handler who left him for dead (Michael Keaton) so it is very cathartic for these characters to meet. It also helps that the character played by Michael Keaton is a very gung-ho, “get on with it type” and accepting of his fate. He even makes jokes and eggs his torturer on to make it easier for the audience to take. Here, we just have to wait for the squealer to give up the information we know he will give up, so it feels excessive.
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Still, I found admiration in the show for its willingness to make audiences squeamish. I just wish it had the guts to follow through on many of its character depictions. For example, the big bad in this show is shadowy in a way that is so upfront that it takes a journalistic character to outline their involvement in the story. After condemning this character, the story lets them off the hook. This show isn’t big on the justice system, and that’s completely fine, but why should it pretend to care? A gruesome Last Blood-Esque send-off for the primary antagonist would have been very welcome. Instead, we listen to a whiney awful speech from the journalist character as she pleads to James Reece who just murdered a man outside the door how if he murders just one more person of the scores he’s already killed, THEN, he will be just as bad as the person responsible for the whole conspiracy he’s been chasing.
The Terminal List paints a picture of a world where death is the only satisfying answer. It is the only element of change these characters go through, and this journalist knows that after they witness him kill a CEO in a terrorist bombing on a public street. So it’s very unsatisfying when the show refuses to follow through on James Reece’s bloody vengeance spree, possibly because of old-fashioned female politics behind the scenes. What’s more unsatisfying is despite all the journalistic evidence laid out, nobody goes to jail. There’s no justice, no lasting consequences. For a show that bothers to set up a moral voice with their own plot it completely abandons any long-term payoff for an audience. For the cost of the show to Amazon, was it worth it?
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Despite its genre trappings and muted colour palette, this is a AAA production. The acting all around is solid and there are enough set pieces to satisfy blockbuster fans. Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer 2) directs the first episode and looking onscreen despite the show not being gorgeously framed, there is not a location that feels green-screened. Everything looks shot on location with Experienced Hollywood actors like Chris Pratt. A network show would have Taylor Kitsch or Jean Tripplehorn lead, but this show can afford to have Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Girlfriend Experience) in the thankless wife role.
Overall, the show delivers on its low-hanging source material with aplomb, but when with minor changes it could have had a more satisfying ending, it is a bit harder to recommend.
Overall Rating: B
The Terminal List is available to stream in eight episodes on Amazon Prime video.