“They were excellent to work with ... If I felt I could add something here, that would change this last section, we had really no sense of people coming in and saying, “Cut 15 minutes out of it.” Which is… my life… Nobody would give us the money.”
That’s Martin Scorsese, talking to BFI about working with Netflix on The Irishman, his 3.5 hour epic of American crime. Netflix might as well adopt that last bit as their slogan in Hollywood. “Netflix: We Give You the Money.” They reportedly spent $140 million on The Irishman, and now they’ve spent $150 million on The Irishman of Michael Bay movies — the excessive, wanton, gorgeous, bizarre, and almost impossible to follow 6 Underground. This is a blast of Bayhem so pure and unfiltered that when a detached human eyeball gets used as a “funny” prop during the first action sequence, it feels like Michael Bay declaring his intentions: This movie is going to blow your f—ing eyeballs out.
With all those millions from Netflix, Bay gets to indulge all of his wildest and most sadistic impulses; I’ve surely seen more violent movies than 6 Underground, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one with such callous disregard for the human body. Men and women are run over by cars, they’re tossed from motor scooters, they’re sent scattering by falling debris, they’re heaved from the tops of skyscrapers, they’re blown up by flash grenades shoved into their mouths, all while Ryan Reynolds constantly jokes about the madness unfolding around him. This is not a film for those who want their action movies to be tasteful and promote redeeming social values.
One might assume, given Bay’s widescreen visuals and teeth-rattling sound mix, that his work deserves to be seen in a theater. But at this point in his career Bay cares so little about plot mechanics, or even basic shot-to-shot continuity, that his films work better in the low-stakes, low-engagement setting of Netflix home viewing. In terms of comprehending the story, it really makes no difference whether you look at the screen or your phone. Actually, it might make more sense if you don’t pay attention. No good could possibly come from trying to follow what is happening.
I guess trying to follow what is happening is technically my job, though, so here’s the story. Ryan Reynolds plays a man known only as One, the leader of a team of six mercenaries (hence the title) dedicated to stamping out the kind of injustice and evil that governments, with all their “bureaucracy” and “due process” and “Geneva Conventions,” refuse to eliminate. With apparently limitless resources at his disposal (the source of their funds is eventually explained), One recruits a spy (Melanie Laurent), a hitman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a doctor (Adria Arjona), a thief and parkour expert (Ben Hardy) and a military sniper (Corey Hawkins) to join him in a quest to depose the brutal dictator of a made-up country called “Turgistan.” Each team member gets their own numeric call sign and are told never to reveal their real names; they only get into the group after faking their deaths in order to protect their loved ones from any potential harm caused by their actions.
Most of these details are revealed in a series of flashes back and forth in time during the middle hour of the movie, after a classic Bay opening car chase through the streets of Florence where untold bystanders are trampled and maimed as our heroes flee in a green sports car while endless explosions and crashes occur all around them. Arjona’s character is also performing emergency surgery in the backseat during all of this. It’s literally the only time she does anything close to performing a doctor’s duties in the entire film.
That is just one of the many, many baffling elements of 6 Underground. There is also a sequence where we watch a large yacht party evacuated until only Melanie Laurent is left on it. Then a few minutes later, dozens of partygoers are back on the boat without explanation. At one point, the heroes make a daring escape from a tall building on a wire; the parkour expert stays behind and then once everyone else is across he exclaims “They cut the wire!” which has not been shown onscreen. (This was seemingly the best excuse they could think of for the parkour guy to do parkour.) The group’s resident tech genius somehow loses a “chip” he needs for his phone twice in the span of five minutes simply by dropping his phone on the floor. (That’s how phones work, right? When you drop them on the floor all the chips fall out?) And then there is the very last scene, which I will not spoil in its particulars, but appears to treat becoming a deadbeat dad as a legitimately noble act.
If Netflix attempted at any point to rein Bay in, the evidence is not apparent onscreen. 6 Underground veers wildly from delighting in chaos in one action sequence to bemoaning the deaths of innocent Turgistani refugees in the next. (I guess it’s funny when the heroes accidentally kill people, and sad when a dictator deliberately does it?) Ryan Reynolds delivering a lecture about the meaning of justice (and Shakespeare!) will cut directly to him having casual sex with a woman he just met. Characters talk in vague terms about the importance of democracy while attempting a coup that would install a dictator’s supposedly nice brother in his place. Again, the more you try parse this stuff, the less you’re inclined to want to slog through the actionless stretches for the occasional moments of inspired visual lunacy, like the part where the heroes use magnets to toss the Turgistani dictator’s henchmen around like G.I. Joes in a laundry machine.
That’s why, more than Scorsese or Alfonso Cuaron or any of the other auteurs they’ve given enormous sums of money to, Michael Bay truly is the perfect Netflix director. 6 Underground will look great spliced into half-second fragments at the top of the Netflix home page, and when people click on the movie and sort of glance at it while folding laundry they’ll be able to admire the impressive stuntwork and special effects without dwelling on pesky things like logic or the lack of emotional stakes. Plus, when 6 Underground is just one of a dozen things you watch over the course of a single month for $8.99, you can’t even really say you didn’t get your money’s worth. Whether Netflix did is another story.