Gleefully R-rated and casually offensive Bayhem
The best part of 6 Underground is the human carnage and total disregard for the lives of the innocent bystanders involved in the film’s action set piece shenanigans. The best part.
I say this because it’s something unique about the film — reckless chases and shootouts in cinema are routinely sanitized to ensure innocent people aren’t caught in the crossfire. This would muddy the waters too much, causing audiences to perhaps stop cheering for our heroes as collateral damage rises. Michael Bay goes the opposite direction here, with human bodies being ejected from car windows, victims falling from high distances and connecting with a splatter on the pavement, Takashi Miike-levels of blood and viscera blasting towards the audience as faces and teeth and brains are shot off. Sure, some of those are bad guys. But often they’re local law enforcement or simply Vespa-drivers scooting across town, only to be rendered into CG lumps of meat by all the “Bayhem” happening around them.
Filmmaker Michael Bay, known for excess and imagery above all else, delivers his signature brand of sophomoric spectacle with 6 Underground. His blatant disregard for human life as described above gives audiences something to react to and gives the film shock value. It also shows Michael Bay returning to the unique tone of previous work such as Bad Boys II, and proves that 6 Underground is going to revel in its R-ratedness as much as it possibly can.
My argument is that, while it’s played mostly for shock value and entertainment, the innocent and not-so-innocent body count of 6 Underground is one of the least offensive elements of the overall film due to it at least showing consequences in a unique way rarely allowed for in blockbuster cinema. There’s also some very slick visuals, iconography, and action set pieces including momentary flares of brilliance. Aside from that, there’s extremely little to recommend in 6 Underground.
Ryan Reynolds has built a career out of being the brashest, crudest, loudest-mouthed hero imaginable. It’s his schtick and he does it well. More often than not he’s quite funny and whole franchises have been built around this guy just… being Ryan Reynolds. Unfortunately, for as much as Bay is known for his visuals, he’s really not known for his comedy. 6 Underground throws out a joke a minute, and the vast majority of the one-liners and sight gags simply fall flat, even with Reynolds delivering them. So the humor becomes a detriment to the film as it falls painfully flat.
It’s not really the carnage or the flat humor that really did me in when it came to my enjoyment of 6 Underground however. No, it’s ultimately the gross ideas the entire story is based around that undid this film. Reynolds’ character, known only as 1, is a troubling one as presented by writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. He’s a billionaire who simultaneously hates the idea of family after apparently being alone his whole life, but also wants to save the world so badly that he’s willing to fake his own death, somehow disappear from society, and emerge as a nameless M or Charlie, doling out assignments to his squad (whom he’s recruited and who have all similarly faked their own deaths) for missions that will save the world.
I’m a grass roots, ground up, power to the people kind of guy. So I’m more than a little uncomfortable being asked to root for a team of unlikeable assholes who are deciding for themselves who lives and who dies and simply self financing these missions from Ryan Reynolds’ billions. It’s entirely unconvincing that this wise-cracking jerk is a child prodigy, self-made billionaire. Then his motives for literally faking his own death and becoming a ghost to society are equally unearned. And finally we’re asked to trust his judgement on which countries around the globe need a little casual regime change? If it was all delivered in a convincing manner, maybe the horrendous morality at the center of 6 Underground wouldn’t have bothered me too much. But with the central idea being “Xtreme Regime Change” mixed with a sloppy screenplay that totally failed to give any weight to the proceedings, I struggled to have fun with the light and fluffy action set pieces I was supposed to be enjoying.
Another faux pas of the screenplay is the dreaded “montage of character intros” for characters that don’t even have names. We get little vignettes (or at least title cards) that introduce us to fast car driver 6 (Dave Franco), doctor 5 (Adria Arjona), “skywalker” AKA parkour guy 4 (Ben Hardy), assassin 3 (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and spy 2 (Melanie Laurent). Unfortunately each of these characters are wafer thin and varying degrees of unlikeable, so it’s somewhat excruciating after a character intro scene happens and you realize you’re going to have to do this a bunch of times. Then they need to go recruit a sharp shooting 7 (Corey Hawkins) to get their regime change on.
A final insult to injury after all the top down billionaires as globe trotting, international treaty-violating moralizing bullshit is that, in a film already aping the extreme vibe of the Fast/Furious films, murderers 1–5 & 7 all keep trudging towards a conclusion in which they’re going to finally put aside their differences and consider one another “family”. 6 Underground tries to make its characters nameless loners who do unlikeable (but rad) things and then has the audacity to attempt to make the audience care about them as individuals who are becoming a family. It’s just offensive. The Toretto family you are not, 6 Underground.
So while the film is absolutely reveling in its R-rated exterior and basing itself on reprehensible morals and worldview, it’s still a Michael Bay film, and occasionally renders some hollow but visually stunning moments. 6 Underground seems to think that parkour is new or cutting edge, but damn if Bay doesn’t make Ben Hardy look very slick doing it. (Even if it strains credulity that a team of 6 elite regime changers would need… a parkour guy?) There’s also a remarkable opening car chase set piece that goes on forever but in a good way, marking a highlight of the film that it never quite reached again. The final two set pieces take place in a rooftop penthouse and then on a fancy yacht and both of those sequences have their visual flair to them. Bay is actually somewhat sloppy overall in his direction here, but the guy is a master of action set piece design and there’s some really compelling visuals and fun to be had in watching the action unfold if it weren’t for how incredibly unlikeable almost every single character is.
Viewers’ mileage may vary and perhaps our fraught political climate simply brought out the curmudgeon in me that couldn’t bring myself to root for regime change as determined by an entitled asshole billionaire. But I’d still take a Pain & Gain or 13 Hours Michael Bay over this gloriously violent but largely excitement-free exercise in spending Netflix’s money to blow things up.
And I’m Out.
6 Underground drops on Netflix on December 13th, 2019