If you’ve been missing the action cinema of the 1990s — especially the symbiotic combination of wisecracking, explosions, and military adventurism — you’re likely to enjoy 6 Underground, the new film from one of the godfathers of that genre, director Michael Bay. The film has a great deal more in common with Bruckheimer-era films than it does with, say, the Fast and Furious franchise and other more recent action-adventure tentpoles.
6 Underground, which debuted on Netflix, has a high concept like all those ’90s Bruckheimer movies did. It stars Reynolds as the leader of a team of six vigilantes, all of whom are “underground” because they have faked their own deaths.
Reynolds’ character is a Tony Stark-like tech billionaire, which likely explains the team’s unlimited funding, and like Reservoir Dogs, the members don’t have names but rather monikers like “One,” “Two,” “Three,” etc. The other characters include Melanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Dave Franco, Ben Hardy (the drummer in Bohemian Rhapsody), and Corey Hawkins.
The story has the team attempting to foment a coup in a fictitious Middle Eastern country called “Turgistan” by overthrowing the current dictator and replacing him with his brother, among other related adventures.
So, 6 Underground essentially has the plot of Team America: World Police, in which the functions of the United States military, the CIA, and all other projections of American power abroad are instead performed by this small team. Ironic, considering that Team America took numerous shots at Bay, including an entire musical number that asked: “why does Michael Bay gets to keep on making movies?”
The film also has neocon-ish politics that aren’t that far off from that of Team America, as it puts the audience in position to root for a U.S.-led foreign intervention in the Third World, with Reynolds and his team expressing frustration that the government has been too slow to take action against the world’s worst despots.
Reynolds does here what he did in the Deadpool movies — alternating between action and wisecracks — but the material he’s given in this case isn’t nearly as funny, and is instead filled with tired pop culture references.
The action? Not the best. There are some creative set pieces in 6 Underground, especially the one in which a fancy pool is shot out and floods the high-rise building it’s on top of. The action scenes are set mostly in fancy estates, hotels, and yachts, with the most creatively successful one on a boat that’s been heavily magnetized, providing some opportunities for clever action blocking. But it isn’t quite up to the level of what we’ve been seeing in the Mission: Impossible and Fast & Furious franchises for the last decade or so.
Co-financed with Skydance Films, 6 Underground was filmed all over the world on a reported budget of $150 million, making it the most expensive Netflix movie since the Will Smith orc extravaganza, Bright. I keep wanting to call it The Ridiculous 6, but that 2015 Adam Sandler vehicle was a different Netflix project.
To say that director Michael Bay has had an uneven career would be an understatement. In 1996, he directed the Bruckheimer-produced The Rock, which is one of the best action movies ever made, but his later career has been dominated by Transformers movies (five of them), as well as other lackluster fares like Pain & Gain and 13 Hours, his middling 2016 film about the Benghazi affair.
My favorite thing by Bay is this 2012 Verizon commercial, which distills the director’s filmmaking ethos down into 30 seconds:
Netflix seems to be positioning 6 Underground as this year’s Bird Box — which is to say, a film fronted by a big movie star that debuts in December, outside of its robust Oscar slate. It won’t win awards, but the film nevertheless has a chance to rev up engagement in the waning days of the year. It’s not the best thing Michael Bay has directed, but not quite the worst either.