Critics knock Michael Bay for his gaudy style of filmmaking. As someone who enjoys silly action flicks, I get why. Bay’s raucous films, with their bloated runtimes and overbearing machismo, wage all-out war on your senses – they have the manic energy of a child buzzed off Pop Rocks and Red Bull.
Bay’s new Netflix movie, 6 Underground arrives bursting at the seams with the filmmaker’s signature style, which is a blessing or a curse depending on where you fall on the Bay-hem scale. If you find brash, noisy, and juvenile action flicks mind-numbing, please steer clear. But if you’re someone looking for an adrenaline kick, buckle in for one of the wildest action movies of the year.
6 Underground comes across like a mashup between Mission: Impossible, Charlie’s Angels, and Fast Five. The plot follows a group of six operatives who seek to bring justice to an unjust world. Ryan Reynolds plays a secretive billionaire genius codenamed One. Tired of watching the world go to Hell, One devises a plan. He recruits a team of world-class operatives who each fake their death to become “ghosts” and join One’s cause. This group includes a doctor (Adria Arjona), a hitman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a spy (Mélanie Laurent), a parkour ninja (Ben Hardy), and a sniper (Corey Hawkins).
Once off the grid and free of bureaucratic red tape, the team goes to work travelling the globe and delivering vigilante justice. Their big mission involves infiltrating the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Turgistan and ending a vicious dictator’s regime. While One’s group of badasses possess unmatched skills, to succeed in their mission, they must let down their guard and bond as a family.
No one else in the world makes blockbuster movies like Michael Bay. This filmmaker dedicates himself to finding new ways to make things blow up, and over his career, he’s become Hollywood’s connoisseur of kaboom. In this picture, he’s smitten with ragdoll physics (something gamers know quite well).
Whereas most directors are fine with letting bad guys simply die in an explosion or car crash, Bay takes it a step further. High-speed collisions and bomb blasts also send men hurtling through the air, Wile E. Coyote-style. It’s that kind of movie. Their lifeless arms and legs flail like ragdolls until the corpses slam back to earth with a sickening thud. It’s an unnecessary, though hilarious flourish that most directors wouldn’t bother with.
6 Underground features phenomenal stunt choreography and some of Bay’s best work in years. The problem with the movie is that it feels like Bay is making action sequences to please himself rather than the audience.
There should be an ebb and flow to a thrilling action sequence – the setpieces in Mission: Impossible Fallout are perfect examples. Great action means great physical storytelling; it should jolt you, let you come down from that sudden rush, and then surprise you again, all the while cranking up the scale and intensity. Bay prefers pummeling your optic nerves into oblivion. He begins the movie at a blistering 100 mph (with an insane car chase through Florence, Italy) and never lets up. 6 Underground’s mad rush of sights and sounds becomes exhausting to the point that even extraordinary stunt work starts feeling blasé.
But again, Bay is an action auteur, and there are moments in 6 Underground that other movies can’t touch. The film looks stunning, with shooting locations in Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, Rome, and Los Angeles. The international locations make an inviting playground for all the shoot-outs and car chases.
Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli does an extraordinary job capturing the scale of the action, and it never feels like the cast is acting in front of a green screen or on a sound stage. A sequence where Ben Hardy dashes across the top of a skyscraper, leaping between steel girders like an Assassin’s Creed character, left me holding my breath.
The themes at the core of the movie feel distinctly 2019. This week I came across three different stories, telling me that 90% of what we put in a recycle bin doesn’t get recycled. And as I watched impeachment hearings on the news today, I saw American politicians arguing over facts. Facts?! It feels like the world is going to hell and there’s nothing we can do about it, so 6 Underground is the ultimate power fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to swoop in and expose the corporations who pollute our water or stop foreign powers from election meddling?
That same desire to take the world’s problems by the balls is also the film’s biggest problem. Even though it takes place in a fictional country, 6 Underground casually exploits real-world conflict in the Middle East as a way to give the story gravitas. This plot lacks the sophistication of films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty and glosses over some problematic areas with a disturbing lack of awareness. 6 Underground’s Rah-Rah attitude shows at best a lack of consideration, and at worst, a lack of empathy. Making matters worse, Reynold’s altruistic billionaire white saviours the Turgistan people so hard I expected Kevin Costner to show up.
I could explain all the ways that 6 Underground is problematic and illogical, but the movie isn’t trying to tap into your higher brain functions. All Bay wants is to blow your mind, and he will do it by any means necessary. So, by the end of the film, whether you like it or not, you will feel like there is rocket-fuel coursing through your veins. Before the credits roll, 6 Underground will either trigger your adrenal glands or leave you triggered.
6 Underground is now streaming on Netflix.