Teminal (2018) Movie Review

Terminal [2018] is the writing/directing feature debut of Vaughn Stein starring Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Max Irons, Dexter Fletcher, and Mike Myers in his first feature in seven years. Terminal wraps together the tales of assassins who take on a mysterious mission, an ill English teacher facing his inevitable demise, a curious janitor, and the double life of a strange waitress working in the middle of the night at a seedy 24-hour diner.

Who says that mystery is a dead art? Imagine you’re watching a film where a man and a woman meet in a park and talk the whole time. Every now and then we cut to a dog sitting and staring at the two, its long tongue licking its lips in assumed hunger. In the climactic scene, the man reveals to the woman that he’s actually a werewolf and will now eat her. While this reveal is quite drastic and clearly recontextualizes the situation for the woman, the audience is not going to be engaged and surprised by this reveal so much as wryly taken aback. There was no information throughout the film that would have to lead the audience to possibly think the man might be a werewolf, and if the hungry dog was supposed to allude to anything it did a piss poor job of doing so. Yet, this example has greater information and suggested motive than the script for Terminal is capable of delivering.

Glazed stares and raised eyebrows. From the start, Terminal begins to paint a picture filled with mystery and intrigue. Characters we don’t know speak to characters we can’t see and plot plans we can’t know for reasons that seem vaguely understandable. We’re given a hint of something sinister and then thrown into a group of characters that don’t all necessarily interact but clearly intersect in ways that make little to no sense as the ball of neon string unfurls. It means to be the kind of film that is fun and peculiar to watch before everything is revealed in a big montage of wrap up magic and what-do-you-know exhibition as the audience sits bewildered and mouths agape. The biggest issue plaguing this film from accomplishing anything near that sort of reaction is that none of what is revealed comes from what was told beforehand. You can’t have a big reveal when it’s all suddenly pieced together in a big expositional monologue. There’s nothing for the audience to bounce off of when you’re giving information that wasn’t even hinted at before. The majority of the runtime is spent with an unclear plot revolving multiple characters that seemingly have nothing to do with one another and yet all seem to be hanging around the exact same three locations the entirety of the film is willing to visit. While an Alice in Wonderland motif pops in and out of the vagueness surrounding the mystery of…apparently, everything the characters are doing, nothing really feels all that magical and mystifying as much as it just feels pointless and confusing.

Paint by numbers without the numbers. There’s clearly a type of film that the director wanted to make here, and there’s plenty of essences of those it’s trying to portray, but it’s an extremely watered down concoction with no bite. The lighting is all a dark, neon, sci-horror indie feel and the worn and seedy set pieces certainly exist but offer nothing particularly tangible or fulfilling even if they are somewhat sparse. There’s a clear desire to vibe on some early Guy Ritchie while tonally fitting a Sin City like noir with flairs of 70’s thrillers. There’s a lot of good ideas and execution without the proper structure or foundation laying. The script hits a myriad of notes for the type of script that it is, but nothing fits together like it should. The actors play their characters well within the scenarios that work in their own self-contained ways but they don’t offer anything worthwhile to the audience and don’t feel like they hold any weight in the grand scheme of things. For all the color and sound and fury there’s a severe lack of style, meaning, and energy.

Terminal is a story that shows and tells but doesn’t present and describe. With all it has to offer, there’s nothing much for the audience to hold on to or care for. 

What's the story behind Terminal?
Read our interview with Terminal Director Vaughn Stein.

Watch Terminal