6 Underground – ***

6 Underground (Michael Bay, 2019) – Full Original – Action/Comedy
Reported Budget: Approximately $150 million

A self-made billionaire from the tech industry (played by Ryan Reynolds) fakes his own death so that he can form a group of highly skilled vigilantes that are each known only by their code numbers. The billionaire is simply “1” and he subsequently recruits a team of six, including “2” (Mélanie Laurent), a former CIA Agent, “3” (Manuel García-Ruflo), a former hit man, and so on. After a disastrous first mission that ends in tragedy for the team, they set their sights on hunting down Rovach Alimov (Lior Raz), the bloodthirsty dictator of the fictional country Turgistan.

6 Underground nails its colors firmly to the mast with an extended opening sequence that includes a 15 minute car chase through Florence that features dozens of explosions and a body count of around 50. It also manages to trash several iconic tourist locations and generally overwhelm the viewer with rapid montage, intense special effects and little to no narrative or thematic context for what we are seeing. This sequence effectively announces that director Michael Bay is back behind the camera with his trademark shock-and-awe spectacle.
This sequence also very nearly killed the movie for me before it even got properly started. Not only is it virtually incoherent, repetitive (how many times can you speed around roundabouts?) and wildly implausible from anything close to a realist perspective. More to the point, there are two major problems that nearly derail the movie. Firstly we don’t have any context yet which would make us care about any of these characters or even to have any sense of what’s at stake. Who cares if 2 is possibly bleeding to death? We don’t know who she is or what she did. This also makes the scene’s climactic death forgettable, which is a waste of a major plot twist.

The second problem here for me is the stupid humor, which includes nuns flipping the team the bird and cute puppies nearly getting run over. Put simply, this is just all wrong for action movies and puts the film uncomfortably close to the tongue-in-cheek stupidity of films like Polar, one of the worst Netflix original action movies to date.

If I wasn’t reviewing the film for the blog, I would have likely turned it off after this sequence and that would have been a shame, because the film gets a lot better from this point on. Don’t get me wrong, it is no masterpiece, but as a work of mindless action cinema it grows from “dumb funny” to “watchable” in the following sequences that lay out the backstory about the formation of the team to “enjoyable” in the final two action sequences. These are two bravura displays of spectacle, one of which takes place on top of a Hong Kong skyscraper and the other one a yacht that gets turned memorably into a giant magnet. The latter sequence is especially cool as the recurring trick of magnetizing the boat to throw all the baddies against the walls and to impale them with all sorts of metal objects is really something to see. Similarly, the choreography of the Hong Kong sequence is masterful.

These sequences also benefit from a change in tone that leaves behind the moronic humor of the opening sequence in favor of something more akin to the buddy comedy type banter that has been a fixture of American action flicks since the 1980s. This is not terribly well-written and relies too much on Ryan Reynolds’s star persona to create a sweary Tony Stark, but it at least makes the movie more enjoyable as an action comedy.

None of these qualities make the movie great by any means, but it at least becomes what you signed up for when watching a Michael Bay movie: dumb fun without much in the way of script craftsmanship (the design and selection of the team makes as little sense at the end of the film as it did at the beginning) or moral complexity. Of course, that Michael Bay label also promises that the film will be an ideological cesspool and that’s also exactly what you get, a film in which female bodies are oogled to the point that the camera tries to look up skirts at times; and in which we are told repeatedly that tech billionaires need less regulation and oversight if they’re to save the world. These are problems for me, but they might not be for others.

Either way, by overcoming the giddy stupidity of its opening sequences, 6 Underground at least becomes the movie you tuned in for by the end. And of course that ending leaves open the distinct possibility of a sequel and/or franchise. I can’t say I would be eager to see more movies with this team and this wariness is made all the worse by the twist that is introduced in the last few minutes of the film. Without spoiling that twist, let me just say that it is contrived and just plain dumb, and moreover threatens to take the film back to the level of Polar, which likewise bid for franchise status with a terrible tone-changing twist. For many reasons, then, let’s hope 6 Underground ends here.

Netflix Tendencies

Netflix Stars

Ryan Reynolds is also set to star in Red Notice, another megabudget tentpole film that Netflix has agreed to finance and produce.

Mélanie Laurent also appears in Operation Finale, which was acquired for all markets outside the US and China by Netflix.

Adria Arjona appears in the Netflix original movie Triple Frontier and will also have a role in the upcoming Netflix film Sweet Girl.

Manuel García-Ruflo will also appear in Sweet Girl.

Dave Franco has a brief role in this film and also starred in the Netflix film 6 Balloons and appeared in the Netflix series Easy.

Lior Raz is the star of the very popular Israeli Netflix series Fauda. He also appeared in Operation Finale.

Producer Ian Bryce also worked on the Netflix original film War Machine. Between that film and this one, Bryce signed a first-look deal with Netflix that means he will likely be producing more films for the streaming service in the near future.

Conspicuous Product Placement

From its very first images, the film features a dizzying array of product placement that is as subtle as the film’s action scenes are. Brands that are prominently placed in front of the viewers’ eyes include Red Bull, Lavazza coffee, Heineken beer, Captain Morgan, Aviator Gin, a slew of car brands and a number of international tourist destinations such as the Uffizi gallery in Florence (the setting for part of the ridiculous care chase at the open) and Abu Dhabi Louvre. And the product placement isn’t limited to the film itself. About a month before its release, Netflix put out an extended trailer for the film that was sponsored by the Italian tourist board.

6 Underground is far from an isolated case of extensive product placement in Netflix films. The practice has featured prominently in many films, most notably in blockbusters such as Bird Box, Murder Mystery and others. Anyone who thinks there is no advertising on Netflix thus needs to pay closer attention.

Studio Leftover

While there have not been any press reports that indicate a major studio passed on this film in particular, both Michael Bay and Skydance Media (the company that presumably developed the film) but have first-look distribution deals with Paramount Studios, meaning this project must have been rejected by that studio before it was offered to Netflix.

Notable Corporate Alliance

Netflix has bought a number of films and series from Skydance, including The Cloverfield Paradox and Annihilation on the film side (both Paramount projects initially) and Grace and Frankie and Altered Carbon on the series side. The company is also producing the film The Old Guard along with Netflix.

5 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s