The apparent appeal of leaving the studio system and working on a film with Netflix is that the streamer offers directors more creative freedom. Alfonso Cuarón got to make Roma, the most personal film of his career, with Netflix letting him cook, and it’s because the company was willing to foot the bill on expensive de-aging technology that we were blessed with Martin Scorsese’s latest masterpiece, The Irishman. The Netflix theatrical distribution model might be an ongoing point of contention, but I think we can all agree it’s nice to see some of the best auteurs on the planet get a blank check for their passion projects.
This freedom, however, has also extended to Michael Bay, who was reportedly given $150 million for another opus of fetishistic violence and explosions; that’s why we now have 6 Underground. Fans of the filmmaker’s “Bayhem” will contend that he’s good at making really fun, mind-numbing trash—detractors like me will point out that you can watch entertaining movies heavy on action that are comprehensible and less demeaning to women, and don’t feature offensive caricatures in the visage of Transformers. But my “the enduring mainstream appeal of Michael Bay is why Donald Trump is president” take can wait another day; for now, let’s just talk about 6 Underground.
I imagine Michael Bay, sitting down on his least-stained beanbag chair, cracking open his second Monster energy drink and occasionally leering at his half-torn Farrah Fawcett poster, had a Mission: Impossible marathon one day and decided “I can do this, too.” The result is 6 Underground, a film where a bunch of “ghosts”—generic action-movie specialists who faked their deaths to live off the grid and, per them, avoid lines at the DMV—work outside the system to depose an evil dictator. The team is run by Ryan Reynolds, an infuriatingly perfect lead in a Bay film. Lots of explosions and some other things happen.
It’s clear Netflix just said “go off, juvenile king,” and so Bay did. To describe what actually happened in 6 Underground would be pointless, as that’d require the film to have any internal logic, a plot, or emotional stakes. But if there was an ideal way to catalog the stuff that goes down in a quintessential Bayian experience, it would be through a bunch of 6 Underground superlatives. So that’s what we’re gonna do.
Best Actor Always Playing an Elevated Version of Himself
I can no longer think of a time when Ryan Reynolds wasn’t just playing, well, Ryan Reynolds in a movie. Deadpool is Ryan Reynolds with a cool-looking superhero outfit, lots of guns, and the regenerative powers of Wolverine. In Hobbs & Shaw, there’s an unspoken agreement with the audience that we’re meant to accept Ryan Reynolds as a CIA agent who never takes things seriously. (Because he is Ryan Reynolds.) Somehow, Pikachu as a detective was the perfect mind meld for the sensibilities of Ryan Reynolds.
6 Underground makes the distinction between actor and character even blurrier, because Reynolds’s character doesn’t have a name. He refers to himself as “One,” and what we do know is that he’s a billionaire who’s funding this whole operation, recruiting the other members of his team, and assigning them numbers so things never get too personal. And, naturally, One makes a lot of quips like he may secretly be Ryan Reynolds with the net worth of Jeff Bezos.
Dwayne Johnson is hot on his tail, but for now, Reynolds is still the GOAT of movie stars who keep getting to play elevated versions of themselves and make millions of dollars from it. You have to respect the hustle.
Worst Destruction of Priceless Art
Florence could not handle the Bayhem.
Best Addition to the Michael Bay Filmography
At some point between Transformers: The Last Knight and 6 Underground, Bay discovered parkour. And he clearly loved it. “Four,” played by Ben Hardy, is the thief of the ensemble—but more importantly, he’s also the parkour guy. Four spends most of the film looking like he just walked out of a CrossFit gym, and, I’m not gonna deny it, it was impressive to see this dude scale down the Duomo di Firenze.
Having lots of parkour sequences is also a refreshing wrinkle, since parkour—as far as I know from my own YouTube viewing history—doesn’t necessarily involve explosions. (Otherwise it would be a much more dangerous hobby!) I don’t want to encourage Bay any further, but imagine if Netflix made a Heat knockoff—except everyone did parkour. (Regrettably, I’d watch the shit out of it.)
Best Surprise Death Scene Involving a Franco Sibling
We all knew James Franco was a goner in Alien: Covenant, but it was still fun to see a well-known actor randomly appear in a major franchise only to get incinerated within like 30 seconds. (Doubly entertaining because of how creepy and irritating James Franco is.) But I did not think his brother, Dave Franco—known as “Six,” he is one who drives the getaway car—would be subjected to an early and surprisingly gruesome death in the opening 20-odd minutes of 6 Underground. It wins out over Covenant as the most abrupt and gruesome Franco death in cinema. Then again, maybe the shock is my fault for not looking at the poster closely enough:
Notice the problem? It’s 6 Underground, but this poster has seven characters. Should’ve seen it coming. Corey Hawkins is then recruited to be “Seven,” as One is apparently sentimental enough not to name him Six in a tribute to the original Six. Anyway, that’s the closest the film gets to any pathos—when they bury Six at sea, Reynolds starts talking about Leave It to Beaver and makes lots of silly jokes, which kills the vibe quicker than Franco was impaled.
The Most Realistic Sex
Do you ever talk about Shakespeare with the evil dictator you want to kill, and then seconds later you’re in a hotel room with the beautiful bartender who eavesdropped on the entire conversation? When you partake in sexual intercourse, does it look like this?
Boy, yes, this is how the sex happens. It is evident that Michael Bay knows a lot about sex, and how it occurs between a consenting man and a consenting woman who have just met at a bar next to an evil dictator who enjoys Shakespeare plays. On-screen sex hasn’t been this arousing since we found out the guy from Fifty Shades of Grey had a Chronicles of Riddick poster in his childhood bedroom, a scene I’ve thought about every single day for the past two years.
Greatest T-Shirt Worn by a Random Henchman
I can only assume this came from Michael Bay’s personal wardrobe. Legend.
Most Natural Reaction to a Military Coup
If I was an evil dictator increasingly worried that my virtuous brother and a bunch of unnamed elite operatives were trying to usurp me, I would also eat carrots and cauliflower with my top general to discuss next steps.
It’s called “brain food” for a reason. Find a new slant.
Most Effective Use of Magnets
The best use of magnets is definitely when Ryan Reynolds turns a giant yacht—which is also, for some reason, the location of the evil dictator’s panic room—into a giant magnet. Scorsese used Netflix’s resources to reckon with his legacy in the gangster genre and the inevitable passage of time; meanwhile, Bay achieved this.
The sequence was undeniably cool and original, though we never get an in-universe explanation for why the magnet’s activation sounds like the Inception noise. It’s also a little disappointing that the first trailer for 6 Underground ruined some of the fun for this reveal—that’s like spoiling how John Wick kills Boban.
And Finally: Best Explosion
As expected, there were as many worthy candidates as there are questionable Democratic presidential nominees. But we’re going to go with this one:
I could give you the context for when this happened in the movie and what it achieved, but let’s be honest, you don’t actually care. And that’s perhaps the best way to appreciate(??) 6 Underground’s mindless excesses—and the larger Michael Bay Cinematic Experience. Alternatively, why willingly accept the Bay-induced migraine in perpetuity? There’s plenty of great action movies on Netflix—The Night Comes for Us comes to mind—all of which are more entertaining and coherent. The more attention we give 6 Underground, the more we risk Netflix giving the green light to 7 Underground, which will surely have enough explosives to arm a small country.