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.