With a title like 6 Underground, Michael Bay’s new action flick sounds like it could be a distant sequel to The Taking of Pelham 123, or at least in conversation with fellow 2019 release 21 Bridges. But this Frankenstein’s Monster of genre clichés—the revenge thriller, the one last heist, and the first mission with the boss—has absolutely nothing to do with public transportation, and in fact has absolutely of value at all to its name, despite being set in a world of extreme wealth.
Yes, Ryan Reynolds plays tech billionaire, but one who is strangely not a household name yet—we don’t even know his name despite spending two hours with him, nor does his team-turned-family of varied assassins, thieves, doctors, soldiers, and so forth. All we know is the one thing they all have in common: They’re “dead,” having faked their deaths and otherwise dropped off the grid so that they can be free to right the world’s wrongs without pesky bureaucracy or family ties keeping them from their mission.
“Ghosts have one power above all others: to haunt the living,” Reynolds’ snarky One reflects in an effective but still cheesy voiceover. “Haunt them for what they’ve done.” He is burdened with wealth, thanks to super-nano-magnet inventions, and a bleeding heart, thanks to a childhood as an orphan. Hence One has the funds and the not-exactly-personal-but-passionate vendetta to bring together his fellow spooks and shades: cool doctor Five (Adri Arjona), PTSD-ridden sniper Seven (Corey Hawkins), fearless thief or “skywalker” Four (Ben Hardy), and more. (It takes some stones for Netflix to release a movie one week before Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and snatch the family name.)
Their target: the brutal dictator of fictional Turgistan, a man defined by his penchant for gas bombs and gold silk sheets. Their mission: replace the dictator with his brother in a coup.
With One’s preference for ghost jokes though, the movie should have leaned into its tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness and called itself Haunted House.
God help me though if Reynolds doesn’t sell this kamikaze plan with charisma. One is not that different from any other character he’s played, but he still looks like he’s having a hell of a lot of fun. There is something fascinating about a billionaire devoting his wealth and resources to vigilantism in a less broody way than Bruce Wayne. In a cartoonish sense, this hews closer to the Elon Musks and Bill Gates of the world. Yet you can never shake the feeling that these high-octane car chases and death-defying shootouts are all breathtakingly expensive for One, both in terms of costly materials and the human lives they clearly endanger. Sure, they may bag a dictator for their efforts, and he emphasizes that no one will know their names, but he still gets to play Tony Stark and Nick Fury. “No one’s gonna save the world,” One says at one point, “but we could make it look less shitty.” Why not, then, do the less sexy but more vital heists on climate change deniers or Proud Boy meetups?
Because it’s a Michael Bay movie, so we need lots of explosions in a fictional brown country.
Like Bruce Wayne, One is so desperate for a family (in his case, the 1950s ideal of the Cleavers) that he collects misfits and bankrolls their every whim and need, so long as they join up. While we get glimpses of what each ghost was either glad or regretful to leave behind, they’re all fairly one-note. There’s some interesting texture with the quasi-forbidden romance between unsentimental ex-CIA operative Two (Melanie Laurent) and jovial hitman Three (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), but the group is still so half-formed that some casual sex on the side will not necessarily be what brings the mood down.
You get the sense that this is Bay’s next attempt at a franchise, and the setup for 6 Underground is diverting, if also exceedingly shallow. But the second half dips into problematic territory, with a rich white savior who seems more interested in fixing one problem instead of the root cause. But at least Ryan Reynolds and his cadre of ghosts is a better and more fulfilling partnership than R.I.P.D.
Natalie Zutter feels like she should have put some booze in her coffee to watch this. Talk bonkers action movies with her on Twitter @nataliezutter!