Director: Michael Bay
Writers: Paul Wernick & Rhett Reese
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo
A billionaire known only as ‘One’ (Reynolds) leads a group of off-the-grid mercenaries who, as well as One, have all faked their own deaths to become off-the-gird mercenaries that have become ‘ghosts’ (that are only referred to as their allotted number) and do the jobs the Governments won’t. Their first mission is to remove a vicious dictator that is killing his own innocent citizens and replace him with his more peaceful brother.
There is no denying that when he is on good form and is given a good script, Ryan Reynolds can be an extremely likeable action hero, but he just does have a tendency to make some very bad choices (Green Lantern, R.I.P.D., The Hitman’s Bodyguard etc.), unfortunately 6 Underground has to also be classed as yet another one of the those bad choices. Netflix have provided some very good films recently, and their apparent tendency to give filmmakers creative freedom is very admirable (and undoubtedly can produce some great films when it is a genuinely creative and talented filmmaker), but why their executives gave Michael bloody Bay apparent carte blanche and $150 million to play with is completely beyond me!
Though it may well have what would appear to a very much tried and tested ‘secret society’ story at its narrative core, the concept to 6 Underground is actually quite promising; instead of having a Government funded organisation that are unbelievably slick and highly trained to within an inch of their lives and having both limitless Government money and logic defying technology at their disposal (The abysmal Mile 22 is a recent example), 6 Underground does go for a different approach (kind of). This group of people who refer to each other solely by their allocated respective number are actually a bunch of total misfits, and their leader is basically a vigilante with a personal vendetta, but a complete amateur when it comes to the kind of operations that he instructs his ‘team’ to do.
So, cue plenty of action and even more banter and arguments from this motley crew of vigilantes as they try to save the world one cock up at a time?
Well, kind of……
There are certainly attempts at banter, and things do occasionally go wrong, but this is of course a Michael Bay film, so we get the usual Bay trademarks of unashamedly gratuitous violence, overlong action sequences (the film opens with an increasingly boring 20 minute car chase), leery and objectifying shots of women, soft rock music, shots of helicopters and a low sun, shameless product placement and editing that is both migraine inducing and logic-defying. Oh, and conveniently Ryan Reynold’s character happens to be a self-made billionaire that has made his fortune from being a tech-genius (he is apparently the one that invented the technology that makes mobile phones vibrate), so that explains the unlimited budget and narrative-convenient technology that allows the team to carry out their operations.
Of course, it is a given that any action film will take certain liberties with logic, and that is fine. For example, in one of the many slightly odd voiceovers Reynold’s character tries to talk about the plus points of being ‘dead’ – one being that it allows to cross any border easily. Well, as they are not actually dead that isn’t quite as true as he seems to make it out to be. Likewise the narrative picks and chooses when to take advantage of technology; They use all kind of fancy communication technology on their missions, but yet they are all completely ‘off grid’ – considering both the technology that exists these days and the utter havoc that they create it does seem inconceivable that they would be able to get away with what they do and not a single government figure out who they are and track them down. There is indeed a scene when a ‘nasty lawyer’ manages to capture security footage of one of the characters and explains (very clearly for the apparently stupid audience) that this person has been ‘dead’ for years – but this is then conveniently forgotten about!
However, though the abundance of glaring plot holes in 6 Underground may be forgivable, it is also very inconsistent in its moral tone. At one stage Reynold’s slightly hubristic character will be moralising about the incompetence and impotence of Governments and how important it is to stand up for the oppressed, such as in of the film’s many clunky and embarrassing lines: “the world is wrapped in red tape, and I couldn’t cut through it even with a billion-dollar sword.”
However, within an instant of Reynold’s increasingly repetitive and unnecessary voiceover explaining for the umpteenth time what he and his gang do, they then brutally kill a lot of people, and often many innocent people are killed in the film’s action sequences. Meanwhile Bay seems to be really going for it with what is an almost voyeuristic approach to the film’s unnecessary violence; in a film that has a very high body count we are constantly getting slow-motion shots of bullets piercing flesh, and blood and guts going everywhere – especially in the excessively over the top car chases where not only do the cars go flying everywhere, but also the bodies inside them, and Bay seems to worryingly enjoy way too much showing us exactly what happens to a body that is involved in a violent car crash. Bay seems to think we want to see in deep graphic detail the various ways the film’s countless number of goons can brutally die. Brutal violence of course has a place in certain films, but not in what is supposed to be a silly and fun action film, and so it just ends up feeling unnecessarily nasty, leaving quite a vial taste in the mouth.
What also doesn’t help is the total lack of character development and some inexplicable plot developments. There are minimal attempts at developing Reynold’s character; there are a few flashbacks and he gets plenty of voice-over lines where he keeps on basically telling us that dictators are nasty people and how great it is to be ‘dead’, but despite Reynolds doing his best, it is often difficult to truly route for his character. At one point he brutally kills someone and one of the other characters rightfully states that he ‘must have got those skills from somewhere’, but this is then never followed up. It is also rather inexplicable why all these other highly trained individuals that are supposedly independently minded would take orders quite so diligently from a man that is just (as he admits at one point) a “rich asshole”. With the exception of Corey Hawkins’ Seven (who does add a certain level of morality and decency when the narrative lets him), the rest of the characters fair even worse with very little character development, or in the case of Adria Arjona’s Five – none at all.
Okay, so for those who are just looking for a bit of mindless entertainment in which they can just switch the brain off after a long day, then 6 Underground is passable entertainment as it is very loud and even more dumb, but given the extensive catalogue that Netflix has these days, surely there are better films to choose from?
Bayhem comes to Netflix and it is not pleasant; despite Reynold’s enthusiasm 6 Underground is certainly dumb but very rarely fun. Instead the result is a film that is an overlong abrasive mess and is very often unnecessarily nasty.