6 Underground: Michael Bay destroys another Florentine piazza.

6 Underground

Dept. of Madness and Mayhem


There used to be this TV show back in the 1990s called Counterstrike. In it, a reclusive billionaire, played by Christopher Plummer (yes, that Christopher Plummer), assembles a clandestine team of highly skilled individuals to help him fight global terrorism. From their high-tech headquarters aboard a plane, they would travel all around the world, taking the law into their own hands, bringing terrorists and criminals to justice.

This was television back then. Mostly. Knight Rider, The A-Team, Airwolf, Street Hawk, Magnum P.I., MacGyver, Dark Justice. They were all rooted in the notion that the system had failed, and that if you wanted to get things done, you needed to go outside the boundaries of the law. The good guys were virtuous. The bad guys were villainous. It was pure fantasy. For at least one prime time hour a week, you could escape into a world where things always worked out in the end. Where all of the world’s problems could be solved if you had a lot of money and a big enough gun.

6 Underground: Meet the team.

Which brings me to 6 Underground. (The new Netflix Original Film and not the most excellent Sneaker Pimps song of the same name.)

Michael Bay, the progenitor of Bayhem, the most reviled modern moviemaker since Uwe Boll, accused, alongside George Lucas, for singlehandedly destroying the landmarks of our youth, for reducing cinema to a series of Dutch angles, car chases, explosions, and heterosexual male desire, has just made another movie that’s a series of Dutch angles, car chases, explosions, and heterosexual male desire.

And it’s sublime. 

The 17-minute car chase that opens the movie is some of the most controlled chaos ever put to film. It is relentless. It is dangerously clever. Not just as a set piece but also as a device to quickly introduce us to all of our players as they careen through the streets of Florence in a bright green Alfa Romeo. Cars are torn apart. Piazzas are ravaged. Pedestrians are mangled. Fine art is rendered worthless. And the dignity of three Italian nuns is destroyed. A baby almost bites the dust, but even Bay knows where to draw the line.

These opening minutes are a masterclass in action storytelling. There is so much information here – from who our heroes are, to why they’re on the run, to what they’re trying to achieve – and all of it has a purpose. In a time when viewers are inundated with more content than they know what to do with, Bay knows that he only has a limited amount of time to get your attention. 

And so, he builds what is fundamentally a pursuit, but one that is deconstructed in time and space. There are flashbacks. We are interacting with characters both inside and outside the vehicle. We are given their backstory and motivations. There are a million moving parts. Both real and not. It is an aural and visual assault so absolute, so complete, that it is nothing short of beautiful. 

The most fascinating aspect of 6 Underground, however, is just how Bay has adapted his style for the small screen. Aware that most people will be consuming this movie in their homes, either on a television, or more likely on their phones and tablets, there is a significant shift in the way he’s shot and edited this movie. All of his signature moves are there – composition, camera movement, colour, and blocking – but they’re framed a tad tighter and paced a little more deliberately. So much so that there are times when it feels like you’re watching a Tony Scott movie and not a Michael Bay one.

6 Underground: Ryan Reynolds plays a tech billionaire on a mission.

6 Underground is also one of the most basic movies you’ll likely see this year. There is absolutely nothing more to the plot than what’s on the teaser. “After faking his death, a tech billionaire recruits a team of international operatives for a bold and bloody mission to take down a brutal dictator.” Period. That’s really it. There is no nuance. There is no big twist. All of it plays out like a muddled mash of every global action thriller you’ve already seen, from Mission: Impossible to The Fast and the Furious. There is all of 30 seconds when the movie flirts with the morality of CIA intervention in the third world but quickly moves past it to the next kaboom.

There is no living director who employs the male gaze quite like Michael Bay. He revels in it. Not just with regards to the way he frames the women in his movies, but also in the way he views the world. Which is through the eyes of a pubescent teenage boy. 

Ryan Reynolds is at peak charm as the tech billionaire. And while the supporting cast are mostly forgettable in their individual roles, they nevertheless work well together as a team of misfit mercenaries. Then again, that’s usually how these sorts of movies work. Can you really name anyone other than Jim Phelps and Ethan Hunt or Dominic Toretto and Luke Hobbs? 

From a purely artistic point of view – and there is one – 6 Underground is the very pinnacle in a career dedicated to spectacle. Michael Bay is a genius. He knows precisely how to push our buttons and pull our strings. He knows what makes us tick, culturally, emotionally, psychologically, and he isn’t afraid to exploit this knowledge in order to give us exactly what we want. He is McDonalds. He is a deep-fried Mars bar. He is every guilty pleasure.

6 Underground: Mélanie Laurent is a CIA spook with a French accent.

6 Underground is a movie made with a singular purpose and with the audience in mind. It is produced to within an inch of its life and crafted to appeal to both an American sensibility and a global one. It is a reflection of the world, not through the eyes of the artist, but through the mirror of popular perception.

Michael Bay taps into our collective psyches and sells us a vision that appeals. One that maintains a certain rah-rah-America while artfully pandering to the rest of the world. While we may be tired of seeing the Yanks swoop in to save the day, there is nevertheless still an apprehensive admiration for the American ideals of individualism and their can-do spirit. If you want something done right, fake your own death, and do it yourself. This is front and centre in 6 Underground, with Ryan Reynolds standing alone as the sole purveyor of classic American values.

Michael Bay plays all of this off with remarkable proficiency. With the seeming incoherence of the end product all a part of his wilful and wily misdirection. Critics may hold cinema to a higher standard than your average Saturday morning cartoon, but the moviegoing audience often does not. Michael Bay, for better or for worse, gives us the movies we want. They might even be the movies we deserve

6 Underground
109 minutes
Director: Michael Bay
Writers: Paul Wernic and Rhett Reese
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Payman Maadi, Corey Hawkins, Ben Hardy, and Dave Franco.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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