There was a time when, to many, Michael Bay movies seemed like the worst things that could dominate a cinema. His fast-cutting, over-saturated films can be difficult to sit through purely from an aesthetic standpoint, and his contentedness to let the camera leer on explosions and women’s bodies, rather than engaging with any sort of big ideas, drive many more away. But now the films that dominate cinemas similarly refuse to engage with big ideas, the directors are corporations rather than individuals, and Bay has been tossed aside, facing the same struggle as many other filmmakers, and he’s forced to release his newest film, 6 Underground, on Netflix. Though his films were never, and still aren’t, more than pure entertainment for teenage boys, in a cinematic landscape increasingly devoid of style, even a grating style can seem like a good thing, and, as a former teenage boy myself, to a certain degree they can still tap into the part of me seeking dumb escapism; I often have a more favorable opinion of them than most (though I have still yet to see the Transformers series that have dominated his career for the past decade).
With 6 Underground, Michael Bay finds an opportunity to indulge in his stylings like never before. A vigilante squad of six members who all faked their own deaths attempt to overthrow the corrupt regime of a made-up country, and there isn’t much more of a plot to the film than that. The logic of the film is often tenuous at best. When a member of the team is killed early on, he is replaced by another with an entirely different skill set, because apparently the number of people on the team was more important than what each brought to it. Despite each having their own title card associated with their particular skill set, most of the characters did the same sorts of things throughout the film, with the exceptions of one being a better shot than the others who also shoot loads of people, another being more adept at acrobatics though not alone in jumping off of buildings, and another funding the operation despite a handful of comments about other characters blowing through the budget. As for why the principle characters had to fake their deaths and why the vendetta is being waged against one particular dictator instead of attempting to resolve one of hundreds of other geopolitical issues, the greatest explanation the film offers is that Ryan Reynolds got angry at a bar once and rethought his life.
But the plot isn’t really what’s important. It exists solely to propel the film through a number of action sequences in exotic locales and these sequences are, more often than not, a rush to watch unfold. The film opens on a car chase through the streets of Florence that is truly one of the most exciting action sequences I have seen recently. Part of the thrill certainly came from seeing cars speed through the streets of Florence, my one-time home, at speeds that wouldn’t be remotely imaginable to anyone that has spent any amount of time in the city. The geography of the city gets a bit skewed, which irked me slightly, but for the most part it was kept in line with the actual layout of the city, which made it all the more thrilling. An escape into a fantasy world is made all the more compelling when the possibility of adventure is convincingly opened up in streets I saw every day just seven months ago. In fact, the façade of my former apartment building could be seen on screen for a brief second, and I may have let out something like a squeal.
The other action sequences never live up to the heights of the opener for me, partly because none showed my apartment, partly because none were quite so big, but they were all entertaining in their own ways. A parkour filled chase through rooftops was an adrenaline-fueled highlight and a fight conducted with magnets was fun to watch unfold but there weren’t any instances of action scenes that were exceedingly poorly executed. The film is mostly a complete dud with no sense of logic or character development or ideas bigger than how to fit in another explosion. The actors turn in lazy performances, filmmaking techniques are flawed, to say the least, and most of the dialogue is either extremely blunt or a joke that sounds like it was written by a sixth grader, and yet, the film has its thrills in exactly the ways Michael Bay intended, and it would be a lie to say I didn’t have some fun.