Earlier this week, Netflix earned 17 film nominations at the Golden Globe Awards – more than twice as many as any traditional movie studio. But while Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Noam Baumbach’s Marriage Story, among others, highlight the streaming giant’s growing ability to secure prestige films from revered directors, 6 Underground is a very different piece of product. Directed by Michael Bay, that veteran of high-octane blockbusters including Pearl Harbor and the Transformers movies, it’s a bombastic action-thriller made with a rumoured budget of $150 million (£112 million). If this figure is accurate, 6 Underground is Netflix’s second most expensive film ever after 2017’s Will Smith vehicle Bright.
Super-costly blockbusters generally require at least one household name, and 6 Underground is fortunate to have Ryan Reynolds. Still basking in his post-Deadpool glow, he’s canny enough to have negotiated some shameless product placement here for his Aviation Gin brand. He plays an enigmatic billionaire known only as “One”, who’s assembled a tight-knit vigilante squad with the entirely altruistic aim of tackling “evil motherfuckers” for the good of the human race. Their first target? The despotic leader of a fictional Middle Eastern nation called Turgistan. In early flashback sequences, we see how One recruited each member of the team, including a French spy he dubs “Two” (Inglourious Basterds’ Mélanie Laurent) and a British burglar he calls “Four” (Bohemian Rhapsody’s Ben Hardy), then helps them fake their own deaths so they can live completely off the grid.
This ridiculously far-fetched premise isn’t helped by the careless mistakes some team members make while trying to take down the dictator, presumably devised by the screenwriters (Deadpool duo Rhett Reese and Paul Werner) to provide light relief. At times, it’s hard not to think that if One and his gang really were world-class vigilantes, they’d be, well, a little bit slicker. Reese and Werner do at least give Reynolds some pithy zingers to sling out in his usual charming way, but their screenplay is so tonally uneven it’s sometimes jarring: a supposedly emotional moment between One and former sniper “Seven” (Straight Outta Compton’s Corey Hawkins) feels as though it’s been pasted in from another, more emotionally satisfying blockbuster – one that bothered a bit more with character development.
Still, Bay’s trademark super-fast-cut action sequences are often breathlessly exciting, especially when the director decides to steadily decimate a fancy Hong Kong penthouse. 6 Underground’s ending suggests that someone involved thinks it has franchise potential, which seems kind of optimistic unless it finds a sizeable streaming audience. But for now, Bay’s clumsy but visually impressive movie should partly sate anyone waiting for the superior thrills and spills of the next Fast & Furious outing.
- Director: Michael Bay
- Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Adria Arjona, Mélanie Laurent
- Release Date: 13 December 2019