This series focuses on the one and only Michael Bay. Attempting to deconstruct his filmography, one film at a time. The ideas explored here may or may not end up in my Dissertation about Michael Bay and Post-Cinema.
And to answer the question: Does it ever rain in a Michael Bay movie?
After TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT failed critically and commercially, and i’d also argue artistically, Michael Bay got picked up by Netflix to direct a movie for them. They pretty much gave him an open cheque.
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (ZOMBIELAND, DEADPOOL), directed by Bay, financed by Netflix, this is 6 UNDERGROUND. Which I think is Bay’s best film.
The opening sequence takes place in Florence, Italy over the course of 20 action filled minutes. The car chase through Florence includes everything that we expect from Michael Bay, except this time its cranked up to 11. And I am here for it. The practicality of the explosions, car collisions, and bodies flying through the air is a visceral experience. The shot lengths are kept short, the editing is quick but not so rapid as the eye can’t follow. This is propulsive filmmaking, even when the slow-motion kicks in, sometimes for comedic effect others for dramatic importance, it doesn’t slow down the action it merely sets up the next moment. The extreme close-ups aren’t randomly inserted, there is intention and craft at work. It’s almost as though Bay is enjoying making this kind of film, as though it has awakened something in him. The power-pop music soundtrack merely adds to this.
The Car chase ends up heading through the Art exhibitions of renaisscence Italy, a comedic beat with Michaelangos Statue of David. The cars steaming through this historic city, culture is being demolished by Bay. Italy say hello to Michael Bay.
There is r-rated gore, Bay showing total disregard for everyone. This is an extension from the car chase seen in BAD BOYS II except this time there are living consequences.
The dialogue is zippy, the interactions between the main group throughout the film is kept funny, and we actually get a sense of who these characters are. It is no surprise that Ryan Reynolds shines in this role, a self-awareness that whilst not at DEADPOOL levels is certainly crowdpleasing. Especially if you like his whole schtick, which I do.
The plot is simple, taking down very bad men, the execution is anything but. I heard a word to describe this film from a reviewer on Letterboxd, ‘maximalist’. Which is, quoting Google, “a person who favors a radical and immediate approach to the achievement of a set of goals”. This radical immediacy in maximilist ideology certainly applys here to Michael Bay’s direction in 6 UNDERGROUND. It is radical in that, he is the only one doing what he does in Hollywood.
Even the time-line jumps are immediate, which are mostly comprised of flashback sequences to give background information of our heroes. They are dreamy, the memory is fragmented, but the editing is quick, the score bridging these random shots so that the audience isn’t lost.
The other 2 main action set-pieces follow the same kindof lines as the Florence car chase, so I won’t repeat myself there. However there are slight differences.
In Hong Kong there is actual tension to the mission, there is surprise and unexpected consequences to the action on screen. There is an intertextuality to this sequence, the pop-culture references come thick and fast, none more so than the THX noise used to break the glass. It is here where Bay interserps his usual action beats with a new shot, POV parkour. This hasn’t been seen in a Bay film before, but it fits seemlessly.
The final set-piece in the fictional nation of Turgistan, like that of Hong Kong doesn’t do anything radically different. However, the introduction of magnets is an inventive way to keep the audience engaged and the action fresh. There is also a bit where a guys head gets blown clean off, SCANNERS style, with a Flashbang. And it is just gruesome.
The plot of the film involves taking down a dictator that has ravaged the land, and massacred his people. I got to say, is this a vieled ‘Fuck You’ to Trump, Putin and dictators worldwide? Is that the hidden message? I mean, I really doubt that this is what Bay is intentionally saying, I don’t actually think he is that self-aware of this scripts message. But it is worth thinking about.
At one point in the film Ryan Reynolds says that the best part of being dead is that he is free. With the rise of Netflix signalling the ‘death of Cinema’, especially after the reading I got from TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, I would maybe argue that this is Bay saying that he is now dead from the studio system. He is now free, with an open cheque (well, $150m), he can do what he wants without worrying about the immediate consequences.
The other day I was Instagram and saw that Bay posted some footage of him filming a helicopter flying over a building. The comments were full of people saying that the helicopter, merely because it flew so close to the camera, was fake. Michael Bay’s response: “Seriously I don’t do fake shit.”
Does it rain? No.
Next up: A different director tackles the TRANSFORMERS