Utterly bonkers, ambitious, expensive and self-indulgent, 6 Underground just might be the most Michael Bay movie ever made.
The thing I like and admire about Michael Bay is that he doesn’t care what you think. And neither, apparently, does Netflix, who gave the man $150 million to create their second-most expensive Original Film ever. That film, 6 Underground, came out today, stars Ryan Reynolds as basically himself, is much too long, frequently incomprehensible, ludicrously self-indulgent, and leaves all of Bay’s worst impulses completely unchecked. If you’re not a fan of Bayhem, you will hate this film perhaps more than you’ve hated any previous examples of it.
The good news is that 6 Underground doesn’t care if you hate it. The bad news is that it doesn’t particularly care if you like it, either. This film treats its dual status as both a Michael Bay film and a Ryan Reynolds film as something of a mission statement, making an earnest effort to be the most exaggerated version of both those things that a sane mind could conjure. And Netflix’s bottomless pockets and determined indifference to quality control have made it so. After the first 15 minutes, all of which are devoted to an extended car chase that is essentially the whole thing in microcosm, you will know definitively where you stand on 6 Underground, and the subsequent two-ish hours won’t change your mind either way.
I still don’t know what it was about. Because the script was written by Deadpool scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, everyone speaks almost entirely in sarcastic quips, only occasionally stopping to sketch out some kind of ethical agenda via verbose voiceovers and on-the-nose dialogue exchanges which only feel sincere when they’re silly. Every now and again the narrative machinery churns to a halt completely so that Bay can trot out sexy women in lingerie for trademark low-angle upskirt shots. The Bay-isms in 6 Underground, completely unfettered from traditional studio and theatrical limitations, are utterly tasteless but also admirably brazen, issuing a challenge to Bay’s detractors to deny his status as a true auteur, which of course he is, here more than ever.
Anyway, the gist is that Reynolds plays One, a nameless orphan billionaire magnet magnate who assembles his own crack vigilante squad to liberate Middle Eastern composite countries from dastardly hands. For a while, 6 Underground pretends it’s going to examine each member of the team individually and then just decides it’s going to blow stuff up instead, which it does, enthusiastically and often, leading to what are undeniably some of the best, most gonzo action set-pieces both on the platform and in Bay’s already incendiary filmography — both quite an achievement. Bay’s refusal to characterize this crew — and One’s refusal to allow them to bond on a personal level — almost becomes a joke at the expense of impossibly earnest ensemble fare like the Fast & Furious franchise, the punchline being that this film, rather than belonging to all of them, belongs to Bay entirely.
On the one hand, Bay shouldn’t have this much freedom; he’s too indulgent a filmmaker, and when the leash is too long — or, in this case, was left at the Netflix offices — his baser tendencies are free to run riot and drown out whatever story is playing out in the lulls between explosions. But on the other hand, it’s always nice to see someone — yes, even Michael Bay — be given an eye-watering amount of money to make exactly the kind of film they want to make, without any restrictions. 6 Underground is, in that sense, a win for art and the artist, and a thoroughly bonkers extravaganza in its own right, even if it isn’t much of a film.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.