Michael Bay knows his way around a multimillion-dollar budget. This is, after all, the man who gifted the world a $150 million movie about aliens that turn into cars, and that was just the start — but the “Transformers” and “Bad Boys” director’s latest comes with a different kind of price tag. For his first Netflix-financed feature, Bay is again in $150 million territory, enough to earmark his “6 Underground” as the streaming giant’s second-most expensive original ever. The first is still “Bright,” a critical laughingstock that overcame biting reviews to become a massive hit for its ambitious owner.
Those are big shoes to fill, but Bay and his wildly charismatic cast (led by Ryan Reynolds, and that’s only the beginning of the crew’s charm) are more than up to the task in an impossibly cool, often incomprehensible vigilante thriller that seems destined to launch a massive new franchise for Netflix.
If you like Bayhem, you’re going to love “6 Underground,” which opens with a nearly 15-minute-long car chase that pokes fun at spy flicks, the Spice Girls, and even Michelangelo’s statue of David while also unfurling non-stop action and enough civilian bloodshed to explain why no traditional studio would reasonably make it. Cut fast, short, and with a frenzy befitting the use of illegal drugs — much like a particularly good Bud Light commercial — the film is rife with narrative questions and plot holes the size of the small Middle Eastern country (aka Turgistan, what a world) Reynolds and his misfit mob are trying to liberate.
Perhaps it’s Bay who’s most liberated here, armed with a zippy script from “Deadpool” scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and a cast that seems more than happy to ping-pong between nutso action and goofy gags. It’s pure Bay, through and through. Not all of the filmmaker’s obsessions are worth keeping, particularly when it comes to his beloved faux-arty dutch angles and low-angle shots that mostly function as upskirt opportunities for the many beautiful women who trounce through the film at random. At least “6 Underground” attempts to mitigate some of Bay’s baser tendencies with something approaching an ethical agenda.
After hacking through a half-hour of blood-spattered action mayhem and a ludicrous timeline conceit that is thankfully soon abandoned, Bay and company get to the meat of it: Reynolds is One, a nameless orphan billionaire who made his money with magnets (this will, of course, become important later) and has now launched his own vigilante squad.
Even with all his money, One is aware of the limits of power, and has designed his own way to take out the “truly world-class evil motherfuckers” without involving world leaders or secret agencies or even something as boring as laws. He’s assembled a team of similarly-minded badasses — a divine Melanie Laurent as a “CIA spook,” the appealing Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as a hit man, “Bohemian Rhapsody” star Ben Hardy as a parkour enthusiast, and more — requiring nothing less than their absolute secrecy and for them to leave their old lives behind. (Cue a ludicrous amount of voiceover narration from Reynolds about being a figurative ghost.)
While Reese and Wernick attempt to spend a bit of time with each member of the team, including newbie Seven (Corey Hawkins), it’s yet another narrative element dropped early, all the better to make room for more inspired action sequences. (At least Seven gets to witness his own funeral, in one of the film’s funniest sequences.) It’s also a smart move for One, who refuses to let his crew bond as a “family,” a twisted idea for a group he’s isolated in hopes of making the rest of the world a better place.
Their current mission involves deposing an evil leader (a perfectly cast Lior Raz) and swapping in his more fair-minded brother (“A Separation” star Payman Maadi; who knew that Bay was an Asghar Farhadi acolyte?), a scheme that will engender the use of an unholy amount of explosives, a ridiculous amount of bullets, and one stunt that instantly ranks as one of Bay’s best. (Hint: keep an eye on that massive roof pool.)
Bay clearly didn’t leave one red Netflix cent on the table and, despite a handful of creaky-looking sequences apparently pulled off someone’s GoPro, the film’s unrelenting action is as ambitious and insane as anything he’s ever made. It’s also the sort of ostensibly original material — cribbed from better spy films and far worse vigilante joints, made fresh with a winning cast — that could inspire a bonafide blockbuster franchise for Netflix. The explosions might not be as big on the streaming screen, but they’re as bonkers as ever.
Netflix will release “6 Underground” in select theaters on Wednesday, December 11, with a streaming release following on Friday, December 13.