Prime Video has form for lavish military thrillers. In fact, in a roster of programming that ranges from delightful comedies like The Marvelous Mrs Maisel to bawdy action smash-em-ups like The Boys, it’s one genre the platform can truly call its own.
Take Jack Ryan, a TV reboot of the much-adapted Tom Clancy character, in the past played by Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, and now played by A Quiet Place’s John Krasinski. That show has had two well-received seasons, with a third and fourth confirmed. There's also a planned spin-off, which will expand the character’s universe further.
As well as that, there’s Reacher, Lee Child’s long-running muscleman, enjoying life on Prime Video. Reacher and Jack Ryan are both muscular, brisk, no-nonsense dramas with real cut-and-dried senses of right and wrong. They're a long way from shows that address the grey nature of conflict, like Homeland or Generation Kill. There are bad guys and there are good guys, and the stakes are very clear.
On the face of it, The Terminal List should slot right into that groove. The show, led by Jurassic World: Dominion star Chris Pratt, premiered on July 1 on Prime Video, backed by a large, globe-trotting marketing campaign.
It has the same hallmarks as Reacher and Ryan: based on a long-running and hugely successful book series, with a former top-ranking soldier now grappling with a system that wants to bring him down.
In The Terminal List, we follow Pratt's Lieutenant Commander James Reece, a US Navy SEAL left bereft after his platoon is ambushed on a covert mission. Reece is the only survivor, and, as he tries to piece together the truth about what happened, his version of events doesn't match up with the account given by the Navy's top brass. And, so, a deadly conspiracy starts to form.
While Reacher and Jack Ryan were modest hits with the critics – reviewers acknowledged their rather narrow worldview, but praised their storytelling and the charm of leading men Krasinski and Alan Ritchson – The Terminal List has been given an absolute kicking.
We’ve rounded up some of the most savage reactions here, but the general consensus has been that the show is bloated, boring and grim beyond belief. Hence, it's earned an abysmal 37% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
But is it that bad? I enjoyed Jack Ryan, though the second season fell a little flat, and I really enjoyed Reacher, so I thought I’d give it a chance. I regret that now…
Is it really that bad?
It is. The Terminal List is dull, flat, plodding and far, far too long. If you still think you might watch it be warned there are some minor spoilers below:
Basically, after he comes home, Reece is proclaimed a hero, but something doesn’t add up. He believes his superiors are covering something up, but every time he suggests the official version of events isn't true, he finds himself accused. Suffering from PTSD, Reece is struggling to even believe himself. But when those closest to him find themselves brutally in the firing line too, Reece sets out on a vengeful journey to right every wrong done to him in the whole godforsaken mission.
None of this is particularly original, but when done well, it can be gloriously effective. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of cheering for a lone wolf as they battle the system. When it’s done well, as it was with Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne or even some of Tom Cruise’s better turns as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible, it’s scintillating. Being swept along with the lead character and his mission is a rush, and it’s here that The Terminal List falls down so spectacularly.
Tell us a joke...
It’s strange watching Pratt, who has played the wise-cracking action hero so well with Guardians of the Galaxy, play a part that is so devoid of charm or humor. He’s stern and perma-scowling in every scene. Given everything that’s happened to him, you wouldn’t expect him to be dolling out one-liners, but there’s no buy-in for the audience, we never see him having fun with his unit or even enjoying time with his family. Reacher and Ryan have a gun against their temple every 20 minutes, but their leading men have enough charm to take you with them. It’s so frustrating watching Pratt, who we know can turn on the charm, not be given the chance to.
It doesn’t need to be funny either. The Bourne movies aren’t laugh-a-minute, but Damon gave him soul and real pain. Pratt’s Reece has been dealt a terrible hand, but he’s an ice-cold killer. We don’t see him learn, just growl his way through a body count.
Nobody else gets to have any light against the relentless darkness either, Constance Wu as Katie Buranek, a war correspondent trying to break the story, just gets to turn up and be righteous before Reece spurns her. Jeanne Tripplehorn's Lorraine Hartley, the Secretary of Defense, is so shifty it feels like her every sentence ends with an eyebrow raise, and the military top brass offers nothing else. Pratt dominates every scene and he does nothing with it.
One shade and one shade only...
It’s ironic that for a show with a protagonist so absolutely certain of the morality of his quest, with no thought given to whether there might be another path, that every episode, particularly the actions sequences, is filmed with a color palette transplanted from the North of England in the middle of November. Everything is grey, so grey in fact that it's hard to see what’s going on.
Antoine Fuqua, who directed the pilot, can do action. He did it with both Equalizer movies and Training Day. It’s weird to see his take on the mission that goes so spectacularly wrong, which is dull and lifeless and actively hard to follow.
I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed…
The overall sense you get from The Terminal List is one of frustration. All the men and women in front of and behind the camera can do, and have done, so much better. Instead, they’ve given us a dour slog that's too long and totally charmless.
All eight episodes of The Terminal List are out now on Prime Video.