Based on a novel by retired Navy SEAL Jack Carr, "The Terminal List," which premiered Friday on Prime Video, stars Chris Pratt — in grim-visaged, square-jawed, gravel-voiced mode — as Navy SEAL commander James Reece, a man with a mission and the guns to carry it out. (This is Pratt's second SEAL, after Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty.") You will not get a hint of Andy Dwyer, the lovable lunkhead Pratt played on "Parks and Recreation" (apart from a little guitar playing) or even "Guardians of the Galaxy" hero Peter Quill. This is a revenge thriller in which the dramatic points, other than the celebration of military fellowship, are those of a shooting gallery.
Reece, a supersoldier who can also rock a sewing machine, is the only survivor of a covert operation in the Middle East gone wrong. He returns home to California — and wife Lauren (Riley Keough) and daughter Lucy (Arlo Mertz) — with headaches, confused memories and a tendency to see people who aren't there. Still, he has suspicions that there was something fishy about the ambush that wiped out his unit, and about evidence that does not align with his admittedly dodgy recollection. He is also pretty sure that someone is out to kill him and finish the job, whatever the job is.
It turns out that, yes, people are trying to kill him, or there wouldn't be much of a story. And that, yes, there was something suspicious about that operation. Conspiracy goes where conspiracies usually go, Corrupt Powerful Interests bent on self-protection. There isn't much to say in detail that doesn't constitute a spoiler, but Carr and his adapters enlist an unusually wide array of players to share the blame. Reece, who has additional reasons to be angry I won't enumerate — but which are common to the genre — becomes a ghost, both to kill anyone who might be coming for him, and everyone he deems responsible for his situation. (Like the Lord High Executioner in "The Mikado," he's got a little list. An actual list.)
With a pilot directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "The Guilty"), production values are high; the action scenes are well staged. (The series, which has a tendency to repeat its points, can drag between them.) Mental disturbances notwithstanding, Reece will get it together to kill a lot of people over the course of eight episodes, though most of these are faceless video game drones who get in the way of his killing the people he really wants to kill.
He is helped in his project by old comrades in arms Ben (the very appealing Taylor Kitsch), who has a boat, and Liz (Tyner Rushing), who has a plane, and by dogged investigative reporter Katie (Constance Wu), who has a laptop and superior typing skills. Necessary new information arrives with uncommon ease — well, here and there it does require a little torture. Never have so many dossiers in cream-colored folders been exchanged in a series.
Meanwhile, other characters are out to stop Reece, notably Jeanne Tripplehorn as the secretary of defense — the series does a good job of keeping you guessing as to whose side she's on, and she's one of the few characters whose motivations seem at all complex — and JD Pardo as an FBI agent on Reece's trail who, ironically, comes across as the series' most traditionally heroic figure.
Every so often, someone will suggest that Reece let the authorities handle things, but Reece is having none of it. ("It's time you let justice take it from here." "I am justice.") He's set on leaving his enemies dead, face to face if possible, dispatching them through a variety of methods in order to keep things from getting too repetitious. Some are particularly gruesome. ("It would be a mistake to push a man to violence if violence is what he has dedicated his life to perfecting," says Reece, a man without second thoughts.) Still, we are meant to side with him, more or less uncritically — it's the only way to make it through this journey — and it helps, of course, that the people on his hit list are generally unsympathetic, when not downright disgusting.
Violence aside — or perhaps not aside — revenge stories have proved endlessly popular over the years, from "Death Wish" (films one through five) to "Theater of Blood" to "The Bride Wore Black" to "Kill Bill" (parts one and two) to "John Wick" (chapters one through the upcoming four). (Not all of which are as relentlessly serious as "The Terminal List.") And though the complicated particulars of the conspiracy are fairly clever and original, if also improbable, the basic mechanics of the plot remain simple and straightforward and easy to follow: Set 'em up and knock 'em down. Not a show for everyone, and not what one would ever call "fun," but it may just be your cup of tea, with a dash of strychnine.
'THE TERMINAL LIST'
How to watch: Premiered Friday on Amazon Prime Video
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This story was originally published July 1, 2022 10:01 AM.