As Ryan Reynolds describes it, 6 Underground is “the most Michael Bay movie ever”. The latest action epic from the director of Bad Boys, The Rock, and five Transformers movies, brings us a premise that involves a ragtag band of vigilantes out to oust an evil dictator. This bunch includes Reynolds’s billionaire, simply going by the name of One. Like Quentin Tarantino’s gang of misfits in Reservoir Dogs, no one’s allowed to share personal details, including names. Instead of going by colours, like in Dogs, 6 Underground’s characters go by numbers – kind of like the script.
The flimsy script brings the movie’s potential crashing down as hard as any explosion in this relentless, OTT action. You could argue that this is a Michael Bay movie doing what a Michael Bay movies does, as the marketing clearly does. But Bay’s Bad Boys has an enduring legacy not just because of its action, but also because of its leads. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence get the space for their relationship to grow and the timing for their jokes to land, and they connect with their mission, thanks to Téa Leoni’s Julie Mott. Together these three set the screen alight more than any explosion.
The action set pieces in 6 Underground are great conceptually. But with the cast constantly shoved aside in their favour, the fiery explosions, car chases, exploding pools, and sinking yachts fail to impress. Lurid colours and gritty filters seem like an attempt to heighten the style, but the in-your-face product placement robs it of the kind of panache that makes a movie like John Wick so slick. And bear in mind that Wick lands its stylish thrills despite being even sillier in premise than 6 Underground. Not that this movie is trying to be the next best action movie or even interested in borrowing from other action greats (not even Bay’s own classics).
Where the action does work, is in the incorporation of parkour through the character of Ben Hardy’s Four. Its inclusion is hardly novel. Many movies have made use of the movement; notably Casino Royale, which featured one of the discipline’s greatest pioneers, Sébastien Foucan. But it’s necessary to point out in 6 Underground, because the parkour is one of few elements in the movie that works very well. This is because it’s part of a character, weaving it organically into the story – and everyone just has so much fun with it.
All the members of One’s vigilante team are a lot of fun, bringing a different skillset, attitude, and personality to the table. The cast playing them is just as awesome, but amid the relentless explosions, gunfights, and car chases the camaraderie and comedy are lost. The ending veers into sequel territory, and if Bay returns to direct, hopefully he’ll allow his earlier work to inspire him, and give his actors room to play.
6 Underground is currently available on Netflix.