The Beekeeper

THE BEEKEEPER is a proudly absurd new Jason Statham vehicle where he plays a humble beekeeper – a guy who cultivates beehives and collects honey. But also he’s retired from being another type of Beekeeper – an operative for a secret organization who kill bad guys and use bee, hive and queen metaphors to describe their role in protecting civilization. (Not puns, though, sadly.) It has a good pedigree as far as these things go – the director is David Ayer (HARSH TIMES, STREET KINGS, SABOTAGE, FURY, SUICIDE SQUAD) and the writer is Kurt Wimmer (DOUBLE TROUBLE, EQUILIBRIUM, ULTRAVIOLET, director of ONE TOUGH BASTARD). Not that you really need that information. Honestly if you’re not sold on “Jason Statham plays an asskicking beekeeper” alone I don’t know what your deal is. But also I’m kinda glad because I wrote a whole review, I hope you will read it.

I’m not the first to note that this is a very January movie, that month dismissed as a dumping ground, which really means it’s a good time to release a certain type of mid-budget, low expectations studio action movie I dig. January releases of the last decade include TAKEN 3, WILD CARD, THE COMMUTER, PROUD MARY, DEN OF THIEVES, THE RHYTHM SECTION, THE MARKSMAN, and PLANE. Some of these I saw on video, some I saw in the theater, probly at a show starting between 12:50 and 1:30, with less than five other people in the theater, all men, all by themselves. That’s the natural state of this type of movie, in my experience.

THE BEEKEEPER takes the tradition of the January-ass action movie a little further. It’s not elevated January, but maybe January+. It looked so promising my wife wanted to see it too, so we went to a 7:30 pm show on the six story tall, 80’ wide Imax screen in the Science Center. With no one else in the theater. It was beautiful.

Statham plays Adam Clay, rugged loner living in a shed on the remote property of widowed philanthropist Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad, CREED). He’s able to have his beehives on her land and they helped pollinate and regrow the place. In the opening scene he removes a hornet’s nest for her and she invites him to come back later for supper.

Then she goes inside and falls for a phishing scam. Malware pretending to be virus protection software gets her to call a 1-800 number, and a scammer convinces her to download something onto her laptop and then to open her bank account.

This is a brilliant idea for action movie bad guys, because we’ve all encountered some form of internet scammers or know they exist, we know they target elderly people like Eloise, they suck, we hate them. But how do you make them cinematic? Ayer knows how to do it: WOLF OF WALL STREET x THE SOCIAL NETWORK via the director of SUICIDE SQUAD. The call center is a hipster millennial tech bro loft with a giant screen showing animated fractals, everybody wearing loud shirts, flashy suits, gold chains, skate shoes. Eloise is talking to their ringleader, Mickey Garnett (David Witts, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC: THE ORIGIN), who’s using her call as a demonstration for his employees, prancing around like he’s hosting The Price Is Right, muting the phone to whoop and holler and to mock his victim. Ayer took the job of creating the guy you would most want to see humiliated and brutally murdered by Jason Statham very seriously.

Unfortunately after Eloise realizes they’ve drained all the bank accounts she has access to, including the charities, she does not seek help, and when Clay arrives with a big jar of delicious looking fresh honey, she has already committed suicide. And right behind him comes Eloise’s FBI agent daughter Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman, DOG, also from Hamilton), who at first thinks he murdered her. The next day when she apologizes for blaming him she tells him about the phishing scam, unknowingly sending him on a bloody rampage of very enjoyable to watch revenge.

This is one of those action movies that has a little bit of slasher movie in it. He’s passing judgment  on people, he has this theming that he follows obsessively, and he’s mostly not dueling people, he’s mostly just killing them in different novel ways, sometimes after having called them and told them he was coming for them. He walks right to the office building where the call center is, holding two big jugs of gasoline, and tells the burly security guards he’s going to burn it down. He tells the woman at the front desk that there’s going to be a fire. He tells the callers to promise never to prey on the vulnerable again and gives them a chance to leave. He fucks up the people who try to stop him and blows up the building. And he says some stuff about bees, so that’s about all Mickey (who survives) has to identify him with.

Not to defend the very flawed SUICIDE SQUAD too strongly, but I would like people to consider this movie in relation to Ayer’s unpopular take on The Joker. I’m not saying you gotta like it but I think some of the hatred came from people assuming he was supposed to be cool. And I think these bad guys support my belief that the “damaged” Joker is supposed to be what can only be termed as a total douchebag. He was obviously more of a gangster archetype than these guys, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind vaping with them and talking to them about crypto and NFTs. I like Ayer’s exaggerated vision of the world of dudes who absolutely suck.

One of those dudes is Mickey’s boss, Derek Danforth, played by Josh Hutcherson (DETENTION). He’s some kind of entitled rich dipshit running illegal business under the cover of a company called Danforth Enterprises, and he’s introduced badly riding a skateboard in some place he owns in a highrise, I think it’s his restaurant, but maybe they’re just his personal cooking staff. He tells Mickey to use his mob connections to send somebody after this beekeeper, but you can imagine how that goes.

Luckily for Danforth he’s so connected that his head of security Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons, DEAD RINGERS) is the former director of the CIA! When Westwyld hears about a guy saying he’s a beekeeper he has an “oh shit” reaction a little bit in the JOHN WICK or NOBODY tradition, but weirdly he doesn’t explain it to Danforth. I hope he thinks he’s talking about in general anyone in the occupation of beekeeping being an unfuckwithable badass.

Westwyld calls current CIA Director Howard (Minnie Driver, HARD RAIN), who calls the Beekeepers, who don’t like hearing that a retiree went rogue. So there’s a brief but joyous interlude where a truck rams Clay at the gas station and out jumps currently active Beekeeper Anisette (Megan Le, BATTLE B-BOY) in a glittery pink coat and rock star sunglasses. This is not on the level of a JOHN WICK as far as action sequences, but it’s a fun time because Ayer understands the importance of giving his characters flair (including her hairstyle and the mini-gun built into her vehicle). She puts up a good effort (and seems to be having fun) but afterwards the Beekeepers decide to stay out of this one.

So then we get the standard macho dudes in tactical gear that most modern action movie directors have pin-ups of in their lockers, and (this is the poetic part of the movie) they are completely dismantled by unarmed, unarmored Statham. Westwyld convenes a team of Navy SEAL and Delta Force veterans turned private security goons led by Pettis (Michael Epp, UNLOCKED). They don’t give a fuck who they’re working for, which makes them fair game for the Beekeeper. He actually tries to tell some of them, gives them a chance to do the right thing, but they don’t care.

During all of this, Verona and her partner Agent Wiley (Bobby Naderi, UNDER THE SHADOW) are following the trail of this crazy beekeeper she met briefly who seems to be wreaking havoc on behalf of her dead mom. One minor complaint I have about the movie is that a little ways in it strays from The Beekeeper’s point of view, and instead of following him as he goes from place to place doing his thing he becomes this shark who’s out there who we don’t see until he surfaces to attack. The reason it doesn’t tank the movie is that Verona and Wiley have funny banter and are fun to watch. So I didn’t mind cutting back to them.

They ask for a SWAT team and the FBI sends basically soldiers, in helmets and camo, to storm what they believe is the next call center The Beekeeper will attack. But the mercenary private security guys (in black) are there already and tell them to back off, and then the call center’s obnoxious host Rico Anzalone (Enzo Cilenti, NEXT, HEART OF STONE), who has a gold dollar sign microphone and wears a green suit that says “GOAT” all over it, tells those guys to back off. So basically we get three layers of different types of people for The Beekeeper to fight through. These macho tactical guys outgun and outman him and have absolutely no chance against him. They come in, get all pumped up yelling HOO-AH and all that shit, he walks right up and tells them who he is, punches their kevlar and elbows their helmets, knocks them out. A beautiful fantasy.

Also part of the fantasy is that he’s so simple – lives in a shed, enjoys working with those bees, drives a rusty old pickup truck (until he has to dump it and drive a rotating series of stolen vehicles). He’s basically homeless and even has to throw away his bee gear. And those fuckers shot his hives – made me think of MR. MAJESTYK when they shot his watermelons.

I don’t think he ever carries his own guns, but he will use those belonging to other people, usually while they’re still holding them. When he’s done he always takes them apart, like Batman would. He’ll also steal your knives and even brass knuckles to use against you. The fight coordinator is Jeremy Marinas (CLOSE RANGE, xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, GEMINI MAN, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4).

There’s this cliche that only an action hero who is vulnerable and gets injured can be exciting. It worked for John McClane and others but like every time people claim there’s a steadfast rule about how movies have to be done, it’s bullshit – there are different ways to do things. Michael Jai White in BLOOD & BONE is one example of an unstoppable tank plowing through motherfuckers who have absolutely no chance against him. That one guy Bruce Lee did it too, I heard his movies were pretty good. And of course Seagal. There’s honestly a ton of Seagal in this movie: the macho empowerment fantasy guy who can go around beating up anybody without repercussions, the blunt and extra sadistic violence, the mysterious special ops background, being called a “ghost,” enemies being flustered about him being “just a beekeeper,” and even the very Seagal trait of him repeatedly lecturing people that what they’re doing is wrong. Of course, there’s a major tonal difference just coming from who the star is, a matter of in-on-the-joke vs. not-in-on-it. When it’s Statham you can imagine him giving you a little wink if he saw you laughing, when it’s Seagal it seems like he’s totally serious about how awesome he is. I say that non-judgmentally, I think each has their advantages.

There’s a twist that wasn’t in the trailer, and I will only give an IMPLIED SPOILER right here – this thing goes as far up as it did in BLACK DYNAMITE. I appreciated the complete lack of restraint here. They turn the preposterousness knob up so high even I found myself thinking “well, that’s not how that would really work.” But then I caught myself. I don’t think I need to see the realistic version of this.

Even at the point when every law enforcement agency in the country may be after The Beekeeper, Ayer generously gives us more colorful bad guys in the form of another set of mercenaries led by a neanderthal-punk apparently named Lazarus (Taylor James, “Gym Assistant,” BLITZ). He has bleached hair, elaborately groomed mutton chops, a puma tattoo across his throat and a metal leg. He fits the aesthetic of Ayer’s SABOTAGE, which I described in my SUICIDE SQUAD review as “S.W.A.T. Topic.” I’m trying to bring that back. Spread it around. He gets the best fight against The Beekeeper. I will not say if he wins or not. Hard to say.

Adam Clay is a fun character in the usual Statham ways, but then he talks about bees so much and takes this single-minded crusade so far that you’re not sure exactly how wrong-in-the-head he might be. In the last act Verona believes he’s trying to do something that basically only a kook would do, and it’s never totally clear if she was wrong about that. But it’s still a fun fantasy about basically a tall tale of a man who will take drastic measures to stand up against the worst people in the world so they stop getting away with it. This guy is fucking crazy, but I trust his judgment. He’s just taking care of the hive.

I’m curious if this was originally conceived as just a beekeeper who kicks ass like it seems at first, and then they kept upping the ante on rewrites to make it more ludicrous and came up with the Beekeepers organization. It kind of seems that way. I would enjoy either version. I do wish they could’ve kept the organization stuff out of the advertising, I would’ve been buckled over laughing if I wasn’t expecting it, but I get why they had to do that.

Years ago I was trying to write a really heightened action movie and I wanted the hero (I pictured Michael Jai White) to be a beekeeper. But my idea was just that he was so badass he was deathly allergic to bees and still chose the job of beekeeper. Somehow I didn’t even get into absurd bee-related concepts, and I’m glad these guys didn’t make the same mistake. They have some good ones, but also left some on the table – those fuckers that shot the hives didn’t even get stung! I imagine in a sequel if he wants the bees to swarm somebody he’ll do it with pheromones, but I’d like if he trained them to respond to a little whistle like an attack dog.

By the way, somebody apparently got cold feet about how goofy this should be, ‘cause they cut the line that’s in the trailer about honey being flammable. So we could always delve into that in part 2. Also, I thought they intentionally left one loose thread, when it’s mentioned that the person currently running the Beekeepers is “a total lunatic.” Maybe they were talking about Anisette, but I took at as someone higher up who we don’t see. So maybe that would be a fun character for us to meet in the future.

My absolute favorite Statham movies are ones that mix the badassness with some emotion. The ones that have a little weight to them, like SAFE and WRATH OF MAN and REDEMPTION. But then again I love TRANSPORTER 2 and that’s all about just being absurd with a straight face. THE BEEKEEPER is a special one for being pretty much as ludicrous as MEG 2: THE TRENCH but within my preferred genre of the ex-special-ops-guy-now-a-loner-getting-revenge-and-he-doesn’t-like-guns.

I mean the guy is a beekeeper. I think you owe it to yourself to see this one.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 15th, 2024 at 7:15 am and is filed under Reviews, Action. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “The Beekeeper”

  1. Great review. And yeah, this one delivers – it does seem like maybe Ayer is slumming with a Statham movie (he’s not, but whatever), but I like that he tried to make a very good Statham movie, one of the better ones. The casting of all the small roles was perfect, and the movie really solidly appeals to the AARP crowd, both with the sentimental protection offered the elderly (Statham doesn’t care much about the younger people hoodwinked by scams, though that makes sense) and the douchebag millennial stuff (one goon trying to bribe Statham with NFTs!).

    Spoiler questions/thoughts:
    -The very end felt like maybe a hasty reshoot, given the get-it-over-with vibe. I was never really clear as to whether he was going after the President and/or her son. Maybe they shot something wilder that didn’t work? Perhaps a bee-themed closing? (I did like how the President and a couple other characters wore BRIGHT YELLOW clothes while being chased by THE BEEKEEPER).

    -As mentioned in the review, there was a lot of stuff that could be paid off in a sequel. Maybe too much- I really wanted to know more about this Beekeeper organization. But the oddest revelation was that the widow President previously had some sort of sexual relationship with Jeremy Irons when he ran the CIA, which feels like potentially rich material. Irons did live!

  2. I saw The Beekeeper today. It was so much fun. It has the confidence to strut into ludicrousness and keep on going with confidence.

  3. This is totally the type of movie I would see on a a Tuesday at 11:45 with like one other dude and maybe an elderly couple in attendance, but my local theater closed down a month ago because we are living in the endtimes. The world has moved on and we have only the ruins of an ancient civilization to remind us that we once were a proud people, a dignified people, a people who would erect a grand edifice so that everyone, no matter how rich or how poor, could go out and watch Jason Statham punch a guy’s nose through his brain on the biggest screen available. We were a grand race once. We believed in things.

  4. The premise of a phishing scam being run from a tech-bro silicon valley sanctum is such a stupid, stupid populist and unrealistic idea that it makes my brain hurt. I have the theory that the original draft of the script the scam involved crypto, but they chickened out.
    That… yeah, for sure, that’d have involved that sort of people. It wouldn’t even be a stretch; It’s happening all over.
    But the basic phishing scam they’re running here? Uuuuuuuugh.

    For some reason I can accept Statham being able to walk in and wipe the floor with a small town’s worth of trained soldiers with his fists and feet – not to mention the whole cheesiness of the plot – but not that fucking inane scam. Suspension of disbelief is a really weird thing; To save face, I’ll say that my annoyance is because they could have had something genuinely topical and important to say instead of… this shit.

    I’ll try to get over myself because it legit sounds great otherwise.

  5. I think the most preposterous thing about the movie was when the police were going over his description and said he was in his 40s. Come on, Statham, be above that shit. Ryan Gosling is in his 40s. Chris Evans is in his 40s. The cast of Supernatural are in their 40s. You, sir, are clearly in your 50s now. And look great! Just own it.

    I loved this movie. It was ridiculous and awesome.

  6. Haven’t seen this (yet) but wanted to share the very special circumstances in which I saw the preview, by complete surprise in very unlikely but awesome circumstances (brief semi-interesting story follows):

    So there we were at our local arthouse cinema a few weeks ago, to see a weekend show of SALTBURN (which I found ludicrous and would love to read Vern’s review of someday). There were were 4 trailers; first 3 were all typical indie theater fare. Trailer 1, POOR THINGS (which was great btw); trailer 2, DREAM SCENARIO (pretty darn good); trailer 3, AMERICAN FICTION I think (haven’t seen it but looks OK). Trailer 4: yes, THE BEEKEEPER.

    At first I thought, OK, interesting, looks like my man Statham is in one of these arthouse / indie movies? But it didn’t take long for the trailer to start talking about the top-secret “Beekeeper” organization of super assassins and have Jeremy Irons behind a desk yelling something like “You’re telling me ONE MAN did all this?” – and thus it was completely apparent that this was actually just a “Stath straight up annihilates a bunch of dudes who totally deserve it” action movie, going off like a little bomb of dumbass awesome, in front of a crowd of moviegoers who were, mostly, palpably confused and dismayed. You could see the little “???” symbols floating over the heads of everyone in the theater.

    Me, I was laughing hysterically and couldn’t stop until well after the trailer had ended in (as I recall) a fireball of exploding honey. (There may have been others having the same reaction but doing a better job of keeping it down low…)

    Ultimately, SALTBURN seemed like a movie that was made by people who deeply misunderstood what they were making – it’s got “this is fucking deep and shocking and meaningful” written all over it, whereas in reality (to me anyway) it’s just really silly. Whereas THE BEEKEEPER, from the trailer and Vern’s review and the above comments, seems like a movie made by people who 100% understand exactly what they are making.

    I’ll take Statham any day. Shit, put him in “SALTBURN 2: BURNIN’ HOT” and I’ll be there…

  7. Ben C, had the exact opposite experience at my showing. A modestly large crowd, joined together to see the Stath punch some crime, and we got trailers for American Fiction and Challengers. A palpable buzz of “that is not what we are here for” in that auditorium. We’ve got too many action movies going to VOD when you can’t scare up a few trailers for Mayhem and The Bricklayer to go with some Statham.

    This movie was great fun, wouldn’t mind it getting some sequels until it’s Statham’s own Equalizer series. Did think it was amusing that the girl, Verona, was supposed to be this shit-hot detective–“You’ve made more progress on this case in one day than we’ve made in years!”–but she mostly just follows the trail of bodies Clay drops and latches onto this “Queenslayer” idea based on nothing more than reading it in a book of fun facts about bees. This is why you shouldn’t go into work straight after a session of binge-drinking.

  8. Kaplan – I had one of those brief, “this is not how it would be done” moments Vern mentioned in the review about Verona when I thought, nuh uh, she and her partner would be removed from this case the moment the director heard that it involved something big time. But like Vern I was able to quickly tell myself to knock it off and just enjoy the carnival ride.

  9. I was already on board for this but even I admired how far up the chain they took it. Bravo. Would see 10 more.

  10. I was going to see this even if you had slaughtered it, Vern. But now I’m wondering, we all are I guess, what did Mrs.Vern think?

  11. Dammit Vern, this review is making me consider watching this when it hits streaming! I love Statham but dislike many of his movies. I kind of loved Equilibrium, aka Kurt Wimmer’s “Fahrenheit 451 if the writer had a traumatic brain injury and also invented a gun based martial art in their backyard,” and I have a soft spot for the even more brain-damaged Ultraviolet. Those get by on ludicrous action and over the top style, but Wimmer as writer-only holds none of that appeal for me. And I detest David Ayer, “SWAT Topic” is a perfect description of his style and why I don’t like it. The trailer for this seemed possibly like ludicrous fun, then ludicrous stupid, then I saw Ayer’s name and figured it wouldn’t be fun or stupid ENOUGH because he makes everything faux-gritty and self-serious… but then you make this actually sound like a good time.

    How is the action? Are the fights actually cool or memorable?

  12. pegsman – She laughed and had a great time and also read the review and corrected that she saw PLANE with me even though I made it sound like I saw all of those alone.

    Adam C – I’m not sure what you’ll think of this, but I can guarantee that it is not faux-gritty and self-serious. (Though I might like it even better if it seemed like it didn’t know how ridiculous it was.)

  13. Awesome write up as always! I figured Lazarus was meant to be wasp-coded with the bright yellow and black look. Also the only guy we meet who’s killed a bee(keeper). Statham has to snuff out that wasp’s nest like at the start.

  14. Fyi, that actress Emmy Raver-Lampman (HOT) who played the FBI agent also played almost literally the exact same role in the lousy Liam Neeson actioner “Blacklight” – the cop who arrives to the crime scene five minutes after the action sequence. Even though we just saw everything that just happened, we have to have several scenes where she’s trying to figure out “who did this” and “why” and “was this really only one guy?” Pretty sure at one point in this movie she says, upon observing a stack of bodies Statham left behind, “It looks like a tornado’s been through here!”

  15. Then I’m definitely watching it asap.

  16. Hi Vern! First time commenter but have been really enjoying your reviews and comment threads for a few weeks now. Really appreciate all the work you put into your writing and seems like a really cool community here. I ordered Worm On A Hook and looking forward to reading as soon as it arrives! BTW, apologies if this has already been mentioned but I literally just read a write up by Adam Nayman via The Ringer Network on Statham/The Bee Keeper and he discusses you specifically as an important American film critic and the importance of Segalogy.

  17. Kyle: Thank you. Yeah, I saw that very flattering paragraph about Seagalogy, that was a surprise! I worry that what Seagal has become outside of movies will destroy any relevance the book could have, but so far that doesn’t seem to have happened. Maybe I could get it back into print some day.

  18. While on the subject of the books of criticism (not the films of Statham), I feel like the Slasher Search series could make for a good book and maybe a light lift (in terms of the writing — more just collating and a preface). I like slasher movies (had you heard?), and there’s a surprising dearth of good books on the subject (academic or otherwise), so, I feel like this would fill a void. Just putting that in the suggestion box.

  19. Jeffrey Brian Patterson

    January 18th, 2024 at 5:42 pm

    I walked out of this with a big ole smile on my face. My favorite moment was when Seagal relieves his opponent of his brass knuckles and pauses briefly to growl thank you, then proceeds to whale on the dude. But it would be my favorite Statham if it had the courage of its own convictions at the end. I bet the original script had him do that but it couldn’t get produced that way.

  20. Vern, that would be great to see Seagalogy back in print. I haven’t read it yet but will order a used copy soon I’m sure. Worm On A Hook arrived and looking forward to starting it as soon a I finish up my current book in the next few days. I live in Bowling Green, KY (John Carpenter’s hometown) and really enjoyed your reviews on The Thing, Assault, They Live, and the Halloween series.
    I’ve got a couple random low budget horror recommendations in case you are interested and haven’t already seen/wrote about them somewhere. I’ve never read any criticism of substance on either of them and would like to get your take. 1st is The Devil’s Rock about a New Zealand commando unknowingly infiltrating a Nazi/Occult post during WW2 after a demon has been summoned. Low budget and feels small like a play in many ways but a lot of fun with Easter eggs to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lovecraft. The 2nd is Black Mountain Side which is again low budget (Canadian I think) but has a The Thing meets The Shining meets Cronenberg meets Lovecraft/Folk Horror vibe. Maybe the lesser of the two with low budget and some of the acting but both are better and more interesting than most straight to video horror that’s come out in the last 10 years IMO.

  21. Just saw this tonight. Lot of fun watching Statham getting his Baba Yaga on! There were even antiquated (for no reason) computers available in the Bee Keepers’ base for him to pull info from. And Jeremy Irons really elevated this being in it.

    Question: At the end, was the President’s son (while holding her as a shield) about to shoot her?? Not sure if I missed something on why he was going to do that.

  22. Damn, I liked this! Screw putting The Stath in creature features that don’t need him (MEGs)or making him quippy and snarky (EXPENDABLES). This is the Statham I love, the TRANSPORTER/MECHANIC/WRATH OF MAN version, dour, grim, stoic, a one man destruction squad. I first wondered what’s David Ayer doing directing a Stath Joint, then you see these group of high-testosterone dudes spewing macho dialogues, and every other person dropping F Bombs with a frequency that would make Joe Pesci envious, and I go “Ah…that’s the Ayer fingerprint right there”.

    And I’m digging Josh Hutcherson’s evolving screen personas. From the sappy, vanilla bland Peeta Mellark of THE HUNGER GAMES, to the traumatized security guard of 5 NIGHTS AT FREDDYS to this latest douchebag incarnation.


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