Masculinity, Action, and Comedy in 6 Underground (2019)
By Kelly Faith Faulkner
6 Underground (2019) is an action-comedy featuring several Hollywood celebrities. A basic introduction to the plot is that a billionaire fakes his death and recruits several others to do the same. These anonymous individuals, known only by their recruitment order, form th Ghost crew of vigilantes that assassinate the evil elite. Michael Bay, director of Pearl Harbor and Transformers, and the investors of the film, created it to be the perfect modern-era masculine movie, equivalent to the Hollywood Westerns of the 1930s.
One, the billionaire, is the leader of the Ghosts. Played by the Hollywood celebrity Ryan Reynolds, One’s character is the stereotypical white, male hero and upholds the dominating image of the classic Hollywood protagonist. He is perceived as mysterious and highly educated. One indicator of this is when he references avoiding the “Apollo Daphne,” statue while they drive cars through a museum destroying everything else. Later in the film, he has a heated discussion about Shakespeare and the meaning of his work with the antagonist. One seems egocentric and daring in this moment as he intellectually challenges the dictator. Drucilla Cornell analyzes Clint Eastwood’s directing style and film choice in her book, Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity (2009). More specifically she studies the male depiction in movie genres with a primarily white male demographic. The author addresses the “man’s man” character that dominates genres such as westerns, spy thrillers, boxing, and war movies. These film genres focus on themes of violence, revenge, and justice. Certain genres emphasize specific themes or stereotypes that will appeal more to a male audience. Cornell explains that “fantasies associated with white masculinity and the easy privilege that comes with” are often at the core of films directed for and by white males. That fantasy is at the core of 6 Underground; in all of the film’s high action scenes, the Ghost crew shoot endless bullets from the latest firearms, crash and demolish expensive luxury cars, drive through buildings, and have access to private helicopters and boats. These scenes are representative of both excessive violence and privilege of wealthy white males.
6 Underground consists of a nearly all-white cast with the exception, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo who plays Three, and Corey Hawkins who plays Seven, and was directed and written by white men. In Men in Color, Josep M. Armengol writes about racial representation of men in film. The book explains how masculinity and race are represented through film forms. Composite stereotypes are built into each of the lead males’ roles in 6 Underground, these character stereotypes are layered, meaning that Hollywood composes a character by encoding dominant racial, gender, and sexuality ideologies. Reynolds’ role of One, is highly educated, wealthy, and shows dominance over the Three, Seven, and Four. In the role of Three, Garcia-Rulfo portrays several aspects of the composite Latino character described by Armengol. Three develops a romantic relationship with Two symbolic of the “Latin lover” stereotype developed in early Hollywood narratives (Benshoff and Griffin). In the Ghosts’ Hong Kong mission, he adds comic relief to the scene by accidentally getting high on the laughing gas meant for the enemies. Three is also significantly more emotional than the other men, he could not cut ties with his mother and fight it hand to hand combat more than the other male character.
Seven, on the other hand, is an African American Ghost member; in this role, Hawkins characterizes multiple Hollywood discriminatory references. Seven is introduced in a war scene explaining his PTSD and sense of failure. The African American male war veteran is a composite that the film industry has often used. His PTSD is a scary yet justified mental illness. In patriarchy, expressing difference from others can be portrayed as weakness. One offers Seven a chance to prove that his failure does not define him, perpetuating the ideology of white patriarchy within the film. Throughout the film he is depicted as the sidekick, second only to One, that brings the group closer together and highlights the mysteriousness of One’s character, ultimately building up the emotional connection between the viewer and One. These specific models, put in place by Michael Bay and his writers in 6 Underground, depict radicalized male characters which highlight the issues of discrimination, power, and difference in Hollywood.
Male Roles compared to female roles, within the context of the film. The article, “‘Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma’am!’: The New Public/Private Female Action Hero” by C.L Stasia, compares the difference in film form and encoding between the gender of the main characters. Male roles are meant to evoke strength, protection, and dominance while females play a subordinate role or love interest, often objectified, their beauty is equated to their success. In 6 Underground, the female team members are outnumbered but are considered equally valuable to the secondary protagonists such as Three and Four. Both have successful careers, Two is a former CIA operative, and Five is a doctor. Similar to the male roles they are seen shooting guns, surviving violence, but to encode Hollywood expectations of femininity, the women wear tight-fitting dresses and use their sexuality to their advantage. Two, played by Melanie Laurent, uses her good looks to blend in or get by unnoticed on missions, for example when coming face to face with the enemy on his yacht, she pretends to be drunk. Unsurprisingly, both end up as love interests of the male characters, Two and Three become a couple, and Four and Five are seen alone together in one of the concluding scenes.
Exploring the mise en scene used for women in 6 Underground, women are typically presented in male films as hypersexualized characters that support the male characters. C.L Stasia explains that There is a growing trend of women in action or hero roles. While Hollywood places women in more dynamic scenes and less traditional roles, there is an increased emphasis on over sexualizing the characters through film forms. One example, right at the beginning of the film, is Five, in the middle of a high-speed chase, she is removing a bullet from Two, a heroic feat, but then the camera speed slows and blood squirts all over her face. Five, played by Adria Arjona, is also used as bait at the start of the Vegas mission; the scene centers around her entry into the enemy’s building. Gas masks are fetishized multiple times throughout the film, this is a form often used in Hollywood style to increase the excitement of the viewer. Mise en scene for men in hero roles is drastically different. Stella Bruzzi, author of Men’s Cinema, determined specific forms used to convey masculinity. Lighting, editing, and visual design forms are used differently depending on the character and underlying message of the scene. Bruzzi explains that by moving the camera in accordance to the actor’s movements an “intense and oppressive unity” between the character and the viewer. (pg 36-37) In the film, the camera angle and speed usually follow the male characters, with few expectations such as Five being used to gain access to the building. The author focuses on the mise-en-scene of masculinity.
In 6 Underground, film form is used to decode an emotional connection to One, as Seven tries to get him to open up about his past and disconnect from emotions. The camera is panned out and at mid-range, then slowly moves in on One as he begins his inspirational speech about “changing the world” mattering more than their individual lives. An empowering song begins to play in the streets of Turgistan which ques explosions, sound is another major component of the mise en scene in this film. There is a noticeable Repetition in Action scenes: slow build up song in the beginning, explosions or violent ambush, followed by a car chase or massive gunfire, and then a slow-motion moment within a highly dynamic scene. Heavy bass music, like rap or dubstep, is used during the finale of the action scene. These micro scenes were either significantly gory or provided comedic relief. For example, the first action scene at the beginning of the movie includes a slow-motion clip of the car drifting out of control and nearly missing a baby and a close up of a dangling eyeball used to unlock a smartphone. Editing form is obvious and intentional, that repetition makes the rapidly evolving story easier to decode. Fast, intense scenes cut directly to slow-motion clips, and the final acts of the action are always followed by softer lower music. When Six gets left behind and murdered, the scene immediately changes to them on a boat setting Six’s body out to sea. Editing and literary design pull the viewer straight from action, to sad scene, and then directly back to the action by introducing Seven in a war scene explaining his back story.
These form techniques are decoded by the viewer and promote consumerism and acceptance of American cultures’ dominant ideologies. Forbes is a well-known magazine; their Editor’s Pick for this film was, “Review: Michael Bay And Ryan Reynolds’ ‘6 Underground’ Is Another Lousy Netflix Blockbuster;” by Scott Mendelson. Mendelson holds the position that the film perpetuates stereotypes and follows a classic Hollywood narrative. Distributed by Netflix, and produced by Skydance Media and Bay Film, the budget for6 Underground was a whopping $150 million dollars, in true Hollywood fashion (IMBd.com). Author for TheVerge.com, Julia Alexander, wrote in “6 Underground is Netflix’s Next Questionable Attempt to Build a Blockbuster Movie Franchise” that the main difference between old Hollywood and new Hollywood is their ability to successfully encode, or teach society. Hollywood executives maintain their oligopoly through the objectification of women and discrimination against minorities. The issues of difference that Hollywood perpetuates about race and gender are heavily used in 6 Underground. Classic Hollywood form is alive and thriving; although the distribution has evolved to streaming and memberships with unlimited views, Hollywood still profits from promoting patriarchal values, regardless of the platform.
Cornell, Drucilla. Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity. 1St ed., Fordham University Press, 2009, http://ezproxy.libweb.linnbenton.edu:2048/login?url=https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/linnbenton-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3239489.
Armengol, Josep M., ed. Men in Color: Racialized Masculinities in U.S. Literature and Cinema. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2011.
Bruzzi, 1962-, Stella. Men’s Cinema. Edinburgh University Press, 2013, http://ezproxy.libweb.linnbenton.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&AN=1203120
Mendelson, Scott. “Review: Michael Bay And Ryan Reynolds’ ‘6 Underground’ Is Another Lousy Netflix Blockbuster.” 2019; Forbes Editor’s Pick; https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/v/s/www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2019/12/11/6-underground-michael-bay-ryan-reynolds-review-another-lousy-netflix-blockbuster/amp/%3fusqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%253D&_js_v=0.1#ampf=
Stasia C.L. (2004) ‘Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma’am!’: The New Public/Private Female Action Hero. In: Gillis S., Howie G., Munford R. (eds) Third Wave Feminism. Palgrave Macmillan, London, DOI https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9780230523173_15
Alexander, Julia. “6 Underground is Netflix’s next questionable attempt to build a blockbuster movie franchise;” Dec 16, 2019; DOI https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/16/21021071/six-underground-netflix-ryan-reynolds-michael-bay-bright-disney-marvel-warner-bros