Review by David Baldwin
I had the opportunity to watch 6 Underground in the theatre last week, and tried my best to start writing the review on the train ride home. But with every word I typed, the more I got distracted. My pounding headache did not help, nor did the burning smell in the train car I was sitting in. It was so awful, so putrid that I could taste it. While it was not ideal conditions to write a review, I feel like it was an apt comparison to watching a Michael Bay film. Especially one like 6 Underground.
It is not that I dislike Bay as a filmmaker. Yes, I hate the very existence of the majority of the Transformers movies (and was so burnt out seeing the first four in theatres that I still have not even bothered to watch Transformers: The Last Knight, or Bumblebee for that matter), but I really dug Pain & Gain, have a special spot in my heart for Bad Boys II and absolutely adore The Rock. For me, that specific film is one of the best the 1990s have to offer – and it remains one of my absolute most favourite action movies ever. The cast, the score, the editing, the pulse pounding thrills. Literally everything in that movie is working on overdrive, and I feel like Bay has not been nearly as precise, nearly as dialed back nor as in tune with the macho-action bullshit as he was when he was making The Rock back in 1996. Everything since has just been so excessive and overdone. I admire his tenacity, but the majority of his films have become the punchline in a bad joke.
And I mention this all in a long-winded preamble to say that I actually really wanted to like 6 Underground. The trailer was slick, the action looked suitably ridiculous, and my feelings on Ryan Reynolds as an actor have been in constant flux since Deadpool.
So why is it that watching the film felt so exhausting? Why did this film, clocking in at 2 hours and 7 minutes, feel substantially longer and more drawn out than Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which clocks in at 3 hours and 29 minutes? How can that possibly happen?
One (Ryan Reynolds) is a billionaire inventor. He faked his death and now lives off the grid. He contacts a group of misfits with different skills, encourages them to do the same thing and then asks them to help form an elite team designed to do the work no one else will. After a botched first mission, they set their sights on taking down a cruel Middle Eastern dictator. But their plan does not go as easy as they might have hoped.
As others have rightfully pointed out, it is almost too clear that 6 Underground is meant to be the blueprint for a franchise. It is much too elaborate to be a one-off, and too few main characters die despite the extraordinary circumstances they face. Just enough information is given out on each of them in order to keep you invested but still curious about their motivations and mysterious pasts (through ill-timed flashbacks), and very little is revealed about Reynolds’ shady billionaire at the heart of it all. And for some reason, some of these characters are given more description and depth than others. Adria Arjona’s Five is inexplicably not even afforded an ill-timed flashback. Perhaps they will be answered next time – as I am certain a sequel will be announced before the year is out – but perhaps all of our not-so burning questions will just be left to the imagination.
Either way, it is all of this franchise building nonsense that holds 6 Underground back from any of its higher aspirations. There’s just too much going on and too many set-ups to count. It is edited completely incoherently, has next to zero continuity (with shots clearly not matching and others not lining up at all), lifts scenes and dialogue from other movies shamelessly, and has an awful habit of stopping to drop in some product placement. I know that Bay has long relied on a product placement or six be added into the background (and foreground) of his films, but the placements here are especially egregious. In the middle of a discussion on Shakespeare, Reynolds literally leans against a bar – right next to a bottle of his Aviation brand gin. And then the camera lingers on it for nearly ten minutes while he spars with the bad guy. Some people might not make the connection between the two, but there is absolutely no way anyone would not notice how blatant and prominent the logo is. There are a few other doozies scattered throughout the film, but this one is the worst offender (and is genuinely making me stifle my laughter as I type this).
All of that said, the main action sequences are quite well done. The opening car chase through Florence runs for nearly 25-minutes(!), and looks great in almost all instances. Yes, there is a bit too much CGI and Bay’s reckless disregard for human life seems to be at an all-time high (and is not at all helped by the film’s nasty streak of really leaning into its R-rating), but the parts that are clearly actually happening look and sound impressive. If there was less jumping around and substantially less cuts to a flashback, then this would have been one of the top action sequences of the year. Other scenes involving a rooftop shootout and a gun battle on a boat are a little more intricately edited, but have a few too many jumps in logic and are missing far too much information to be as enjoyable as they should be. Still, all three showcase the Bayhem in all its full glory, allowing the legendary director to unleash hell and chaos in only a way he knows how to. It is no surprise that the film seems to come most alive during these scenes, and sleepwalks violently through the rest.
And if anyone can possibly relay to me some form of explanation as to why Bay’s musical choices border on being schizophrenic, I would really appreciate it.
When the dialogue is not cringe-inducing or insisting on having characters spout useless techno babble, the cast generally seems to be enjoying themselves. The film is clearly beneath Mélanie Laurent, but she smiles and kicks all kinds of ass throughout the film as the uber-mysterious Two. Corey Hawkins steals the show as often as possible as Seven, and is the only character who is even remotely well-rounded. Reynolds gets many of the best lines and moments in the film (courtesy of his Deadpool writing team Paul Wernick and Rheet Reese), but he always looks like he wishes he were anywhere but on that movie set. His heart is just not in it, and while he does not necessarily phone it in, he also does not put in nearly as much effort as he usually does. Many of his one-liners feel especially painful, but the expressions he gives during some of the more dramatic scenes suggest he could care less about what is happening on-screen.
There is more to say, but then again, you can only describe a film like 6 Underground so many ways before it becomes just as exhausting and tedious as the film itself is. It is the literal walking and talking definition of being overdone and overwrought. The film will no doubt still have fans, but as someone who genuinely loves action cinema, I was bored and overwhelmed way too often when watching this. I loved how loud and angry it was on the big screen, but I am still frustrated over a week later by how messy and outrageously misguided the whole thing is. Everyone here deserved better. Hopefully the inevitable sequel will deliver in the ways this one should have in the first place.