What if a billionaire used his money to be a vigilante? What if instead of wasting money on foundations and political contributions that don't do anything, he did direct action foreign interference? What if instead of getting the CIA to do regime change for him, he did it himself — but his motive wasn't greed, it was liberation? That's the premise of 6 Underground, but it isn't interested in actually exploring the moral and ethical quandaries of those questions. The movie answers those questions very simply: "It would be badass. I bet he would gather a team of killers to help him, and they would blow a bunch of sh-- up."
6 Underground is the first movie blockbuster trash auteur Michael Bay has made for Netflix. One of the many things the streaming service does is make the kind of movies that don't get theatrical releases anymore but people like, and 6 Underground falls into that category. It's a big-budget action movie that's not a remake or reboot or franchise (yet), like The Rock and Armageddon, the movies that established the Michael Bay brand in the '90s. In fact, Bay hasn't made a movie like this since The Island, or really Bad Boys II, if we're talking about R-rated, non-sci-fi outings. Since 2007, he's only made two non-Transformers movies — 2013's financially modest and uncharacteristically thoughtful black comedy Pain & Gain, and 2016's military drama 13 Hours, his most serious and restrained movie to date. (Relatively speaking. It's a Michael Bay movie for Hillary Clinton haters.) So it's been a really long time since Michael Bay made a movie this Michael Bay. Star Ryan Reynolds was not exaggerating when he called it "The most Michael Bay movie that Michael Bay has ever Michael Bayed."
Nothing about 6 Underground is modest or thoughtful or serious or restrained. It's like mixing Monster Energy and Captain Morgan — two of the myriad products advertised in the movie — and crashing a helicopter into a building that explodes with those signature Michael Bay firework sparks. It opens with a car chase through the streets of Florence that feels endless (in a good way, like it just keeps going and going, Energizer-style) that only takes the slightest of breathers for quips. And then it just goes. That opening car chase feels like it takes up more time than all of the movie's character development and exposition scenes. It does the absolute bare minimum of plot to move it from action set piece to set piece. It's the platonic ideal of a brainless action flick.
Every single thing about 6 Underground is excessive. There are helicopters in just about every scene. There are mood-setting shots of helicopters flying that they must have filmed from other helicopters. Every scene seems to take place at golden hour. The violence is unspeakably gruesome, and it's constant. People get crushed with construction beams, thrown off buildings, and blown up with grenades. There are more headshots than a Call of Duty Twitch stream. Every explosion has sub-explosions. It was filmed on multiple continents. Every brand of luxury car gets destroyed. A guy described as "The Skywalker" as if Star Wars doesn't exist does parkour while dubstep blares. Ryan Reynolds wears a button down and a henley. Every decision was made to be as vulgarly maximalist as possible. It's an assaultive, overwhelming sensory experience.
From a filmmaking standpoint, it's impressive. The editing is rapid and relentless, but it's easy to follow. Where characters are in time and space is more coherent than is usually the case in this kind of movie, except for one helicopter scene toward the end. The sound is meticulously crafted, and the stunts and special effects are dazzling. I did, however, watch the movie in a theater, and surely some of the craft will be harder to appreciate on a laptop.
If you're reading this review and wondering why it's taken so long to get to the plot, there's a reason for that — The plot doesn't matter. Ryan Reynolds plays One — the characters don't have names, only numbers — a genius with magnets who made billions inventing tech hardware who decided to use his money to do good in the world by taking out "the worst of the worst," like the dictator (Lior Raz) of the vaguely Arab nation of Turgestan who gasses his own people for no particular reason. He assembles a team of like-minded amoral idealists, including a former CIA agent (Mélanie Laurent), a cartel hitman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a parkour guy (Ben Hardy), a doctor (Adria Arjona), and a Special Forces veteran (Corey Hawkins), and they get to work. They don't all get backstories, their motives are unclear, and their characterizations are two-dimensional. Their main purpose is to deliver funny-ish lines between and during action set pieces. And that's fine. They're all good at it, especially Reynolds, who is basically playing Ethan Hunt-meets-Deadpool and has an infectiously fun time. The movie feels like a pilot episode, and Netflix clearly has franchise plans.
6 Underground isn't really the kind of movie you grade on whether it's good or bad, but whether you had fun watching it. And if you like kiss kiss bang bang, it'll satisfy you.
TV Guide Rating: 3/5
6 Underground is available to stream on Netflix.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)