There is always balance. While Netflix is out there bankrolling large-scale, 210 minute long Martin Scorsese films like some kind of Film Twitter Santa Claus, they’re also offering that same level of hands-free funding for whatever whims come to a guy like Michael Bay. It turns out, free from concerns of typical commerce, Bay just wants to make an A-Team movie.
Actually, 6 Underground feels less like a movie and more like the world’s longest, most expensive television pilot. More specifically, it feels less like a television pilot than a series of music videos glued together with quips. The whole thing begins in medias res and - guided by slightly toned-down Ryan Reynolds narration - immediately goes to a flashback that is also in medias res and has flashbacks of its own. Little things like character, plot, and whether or not we’re finally in present tense aren’t really sorted out until way later than you’d expect, and by then anyone trying to keep track has probably already given up. This is a movie where giving up is appropriate.
For all the noise, the idea is simple and actually would make for a good $100m-per-episode television series. Ryan Reynolds is a billionaire who tries to make the world a better place by putting together a team of badasses who can take out dictators without all the red tape that neuters government resources. The gimmick is that everyone on his team must also be dead because the film treats being fake dead like some kind of superpower. At one point, the villains main ass-kicker complains that she can’t touch these guys through normal means like hurting their families because they’re already dead. Except we see quite a few of them still have families.
So one day Ryan Reynolds comes knocking at your door and talks you into joining his crusade. You pretend to kill yourself, go to your own funeral, and then get a number for a name and do whatever you want because Ryan Reynolds’ character is just a horrific leader. Everyone has a highly specialized role. Even Reynolds, who bankrolls everything, has the best jokes, and is some kind of genius when it comes to magnets. Reynolds is also a big believer in doing whatever it takes for the greater good because the collateral damage in this movie is steep. And gleeful.
I love good action. And I do enjoy irresponsible mayhem. But I find it difficult to enjoy Michael Bay when he gets really unhinged. The classic aspects of The Rock keep it grounded enough to be great. The satirical elements of Pain & Gain work. But a lot of Bay films feel like they’re being told from the perspective of a bully, 6 Underground especially. It’s as morally bankrupt as Bad Boys 2 if not more so.
It certainly must be Bay’s goriest action spectacle. The violence here is graphic, often in speed-ramped slow motion and usually as a punchline. There’s a great decapitation, generous squibs and tons of cruelty. Usually I appreciate this sort of thing, but in Bay’s hands it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s fun to watch a bunch of nameless bad guys get mowed down, sure. Witnessing the villain graphically drive through a bunch of innocent protestors is less fun. Having out heroes run over random pedestrians is even less fun than that.
But it’s not just the violence, it’s Bay’s whole worldview. Early in the film, Dave Franco’s driver character complains about scooter traffic slowing his vehicular escape - “why are there so many fucking Vespas?” or something like that. In the next shot he sees a pretty lady and remarks “I love Italy.” It’s like being on vacation with JW Pepper. In that same sequence, we frequently see Franco frantically turn his steering wheel only to watch his car do something totally different than indicated, as if Bay assumes none of us are paying attention. Maybe we aren’t.
A point does arrive where 6 Underground turns into something more like a typical action film. And some of the action is good. You’ll never know quite what’s going on or where everyone is, but there are good stunts and beautiful wide shots and extreme mayhem. The film is stupid, but there is a level of detail to the stupidity that indicates at least a little purpose. You’re supposed to turn your brain off for films like this, and I’d love to. But for that to work, the film needs to be smooth and easy to understand. 6 Underground is too incomprehensible to be fun and too mean to be likable. But it is also 100% unhinged Michael Bay. I’m glad I got to see what that looks like again, but the reminder was plenty.