Neo-noir crime thrillers with plenty of twists and turns are a dime a dozen these days. Many have gone on to attain cult status, but what about the rest, the ones with all style and no substance? That's where Terminal (2018) comes into play. This movie serves as the feature film debut of writer/director Vaughn Stein. He has been a second and third unit director on many big Hollywood films like World War Z (2013), The Danish Girl (2015), and In the Heart of the Sea (2015). This story focuses on a young contract killer named Annie (Margot Robbie). She approaches a mysterious crime lord named Mr. Franklin and requests all of his future contracts. He declines at first, but she makes a bet with him that is too enticing for him to pass up. If Annie can turn the competition against each other and take them all out, any of Mr. Franklin's future jobs will be hers. If she doesn't accomplish this task, she will take herself out instead. Intrigued by this offer, Mr. Franklin reluctantly agrees to her terms. It may just be the worst thing he's ever done.
The opening moments of Terminal (2018) are frenetic, even headache-inducing. Right off the bat, the visuals are striking and extremely eye-catching. Parts of them are vibrant and colorful, and other parts are dirty and dingy. It looks both futuristic and retro at the same time. The color palette is dominated by neon lights and signs, which illuminate the dank city skyline with bright colors and hectic flashing. Because of this, Terminal feels very reminiscent of David Ayer's Suicide Squad (2016), but we could also see hints of other films like Dark City (1998), Blade Runner (1982), and even A Cure for Wellness (2017) in here, too.
Most of the acting in this movie is solid. Margot Robbie does a wonderful job as Annie, a sly and blunt waitress/undercover killer who tries to manipulate two hit-men (Dexter Fletcher and Max Irons). She also spends her time toying with a dying English teacher named Bill (Simon Pegg) as she attempts openly, and somewhat desperately, to get to him kill himself. She has a stone-cold craziness about her and she is clearly obsessed with death. After all, Annie says, "death is the best bit of life," and she has an "unquenchable bloodlust for darkness and depravity." She uses her looks, her words, and her sexuality to her advantage because "a girl's got to eat." All in a days work, we suppose.
Where Terminal (2018) falters for us is in its story. It feels like it is trying way, way, way too hard to be clever. It wants to have all these twists and turns that will keep the audience guessing, but it winds up feeling very disjointed and even poorly paced at times. Vaughn Stein attempts to make the audience have some sort of jaw-dropping revelation by movie's end, but we didn't find ourselves the least bit surprised. In fact, we guessed what was really happening several times. Even when there are moments we don't see coming, the revelations feel unearned. It's like big chunks of people's pasts are left hidden just so there can be a big shocking reveal right before the credits roll. There are also several underlying themes and references to "Alice in Wonderland." These moments left us puzzled. We questioned whether or not there was any greater significance to them other than a lazy tie-in to one of the characters. Were these references there purely for shtick, or was there a reasoning behind them? If these occurrences actually symbolized anything, we sure couldn't figure out what they meant.
Terminal (2018) values overindulgent visuals and pomp and circumstance over substance. Yes, Margot Robbie gives a great performance. Yes, the cinematography and visuals are intriguing. Yes, there are a couple of interesting moments here and there. Unfortunately, these instances do not make up for the movie's dull pacing and its weak, choppy narrative.
Final Score: 5 out of 10.
Available in theaters and on VOD / Digital HD this Friday, May 11th, 2018.
Terminal • In Theaters & On Digital May 11th • Runtime 1:30 • Rating NR