6 Underground Is Michael Bay’s Worst Film Yet – And That’s Saying Something

17 December 2019
Culture, Film, 6 Underground, Michael Bay, Ryan reynolds
Images: Netflix
It’s not clever or original to slate Michael Bay’s films, but the crushingly bad 6 Underground leaves no other choice

Martin Scorsese might be right when he says Marvel movies are “theme parks”, but Michael Bay’s films make Avengers: Endgame look like Battleship Potemkin.

Bay is the latest director to take the Netflix dollar, with the atrocious 6 Underground. Ryan Reynolds plays “1”, an anonymous playboy billionaire who founds a vigilante group to effect regime change in a generic Central Asian country called “Turgistan” (there’s a “turgid” pun in there somewhere; make your own). While indulging in a spot of voluntourism, 1 witnesses the strongman who rules the country dropping sarin gas on his own people from fighter jets – we never really find out why – and experiences one of cinema’s most vapid political awakenings, vowing to fake his own death and go off radar to punish the guy. So he tracks down people with the right skill sets, convinces them to also fake their own deaths and join him (or something?) and sets about dismantling the Turgistani regime. Each of the anonymous six is only known by a number – hence 6 Underground.

It’s a bit hard to recount much more of the plot than that, because there isn’t any more. Netflix seems more interested in product placement than a plot or characters that make sense, with Red Bull, Captain Morgan, Heineken and Chopard all showing up very prominently and, presumably, lucratively. Watching 6 Underground is like eating a whole loaf of processed white bread: it sounds all right on paper, maybe, but ultimately there’s no nourishment and after a while it makes you sleepy. In fact, Warburtons is probably too nutritious a comparison; watching 6 Underground is like eating cardboard. At the screening I went to, a man walked out carrying his bag after less than an hour and I felt a pang of jealousy. “How can something so loud be so boring?” I wondered, before making a mental list of action films from the last few years more worth watching than this one. A small sample: American Made, Widows, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Atomic Blonde, Baby Driver, Free Fire, War Dogs, Sicario. There. Now you have no excuse for wasting your time on this one.

It used to be fashionable for film critics to hate on Michael Bay. Then, after a backlash that tended to focus on how technically proficient he was as a director (“360 degree hero shots are actually really hard," and so on), it was briefly cool to label those who didn’t rate him as snobs. With 6 Underground, we have come full circle. It is now blessedly OK to hate Michael Bay again.

The only possible defence of this film is that it at least delivers on the promised Bayhem. There’s the obligatory gun porn, the crazed Dutch angles, the stock-music Skrillex-lite soundtrack. Women get naked a couple of times. And at least it’s stupid in a sort of deliberate way, unlike, for example, Joker, which thought it was smart. At least it’s a new intellectual property, not a remake or spinoff, no matter how much of a stretch the word “intellectual” is in this context... But other than that, 6 Underground is empty of all quality.

Every character in this could use the term “Chad” to describe themselves, unironically. The vigilantes have loose backstories – the guilt-ridden hitman, the ex-army sniper with PTSD, the diamond thief with a heart of gold – but they’re generic to a point that makes them barely worth mentioning and the five that aren’t Reynolds remain interchangeably forgettable throughout. The film’s comic moments mostly rely on swearing nuns, swerving in speeding cars to avoid running over children and dogs and destroying priceless Italian sculptures in the Uffizi (side note: someone tell Michael Bay that Apollo And Daphne is usually housed in Rome, not Florence). In every other scene, a character gives another person the finger and we’re expected to laugh, brain-dead and battered into submission by all the explosions. “Those guys!” the film wants us to think. “They really don’t care about anything!” The vigilantes’ secret base even has “Keep the f*&k out” stencilled on it in massive letters. It’s painful.

The Turgistan scenes are particularly uncomfortable. Bay’s films have always revelled in a violently neoconservative aesthetic, where fighter jets are the only way to accomplish regime change and wide-eyed, dark-skinned children clutch charred dolls as Delta Force soldiers in wraparound sunglasses give them lollipops. In the early noughties, Bay became something like an unofficial filmmaker of the Bush Administration. The Transformers series featured charming throwaway jokes about waterboarding and loaded language about “enemy combatants”. 6 Underground is no different: it goes through the motions of displaying compassion for suffering civilians, but ultimately that suffering is only there to justify more shooting, killing and blowing things up. If Gulf oil money funded a film in the way they fund football clubs and boxing matches, it might look something like this – a film that masquerades as vaguely antiwar but feels, in the end, like little more than an advertisement for endless interventionism. The only way to help people to freedom, Bay seems to imply, is to drop bombs on them.

Read More: The Trailer For Ryan Reynolds' 6 Underground Goes Big On Abu Dhabi

Of course, there’s an ecosystem by which Bay’s films do better the more people like me sit there in our black turtlenecks and tortoiseshell glasses and spew out sardonic column inches about how awful they are; ultimately, you’re more likely to watch this film now than you were before. And that’s fine. But beware: Bay’s films span a spectrum of quality that begins with the actually very decent The Rock (at least it’s self-aware) and used to end with Pearl Harbor, his worst and most jingoistic. 6 Underground has extended that spectrum and not on the pretty end.

Mostly, watching 6 Underground was a stressful experience. Not because of the pointless noise, the bad writing or the weird tacit endorsement of the military-industrial complex, but because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to articulate just how bad the film is and how intensely unpleasant it is to watch. For all our sakes, I hope I’ve managed. Please, please don’t bother.

6 Underground is on Netflix now.


Via British GQ