The Beekeeper might seem like another by-the-numbers Statham action movie, and well, it is. But don’t let that discourage you from having a good time with a throwback flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Jason Statham is no stranger to the stylish action movie. He’s been here before. Sometimes he gets special powers, sometimes he’s just a side character. Usually he’s out to get revenge on someone who did him dirty. These films tend to boil down cinema to its most simplest principles: giving the audience someone they want to cheer for and watching them win. Do these two things and you are certain to have an enjoyable film, no matter how repetitive, cheap, or otherwise poorly made it may be.
Directed By: David Ayer
Written By: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Jason Statham, Josh Hutcherson, Emmy Raver-Lampman
Release Date: January 12th, 2024
The Beekeeper is more of the same. It moves the furniture around, but the same basic premise and pieces are there for your typical Statham B-movie action thriller. It is exactly the type of film you think it is, and frankly it doesn’t shy away from that. In fact, I would argue it not only embraces the predictability associated with this subgenre, it weaponizes it for our enjoyment. If anything, it’s a parody of the exact type of film that made Statham famous in the first place.
Audiences will already know the beats. They will confuse Statham’s protagonist for one of his others. That’s by design. It eliminates the need for any sort of narrative or backstory. We don’t need to be convinced that Statham is a deadly killing machine. We already know that. It’s a perk for filmmakers casting him in their film. Much like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, if you cast him in the movie you don’t need to explain it. Furthermore, Beekeeper isn’t trying to convince us Statham is anything he isn’t. His character is retired. All those exciting things we could possibly associate with him happened before this film even gets started.
Once things do get started, The Beekeeper doesn’t try to rock the boat. In fact, on many occasions characters tell you what is going to happen next, and then it happens exactly as they said it would. Beekeeper is a freight train of a movie. It is an unstoppable force, but constrained to a set of rails that show you exactly where it is headed. Doubt is a weakness when framing characters like this. Danger is never a concern. That’s what makes this type of character so compelling. He’s fighting for something we agree on, and in doing so his confidence becomes ours. We feel unstoppable.
Like the title of the movie suggests, Statham’s Adam Clay is a beekeeper in title and trade but you know it’s just cover for his status as a special agent. He’s a bit of a vagabond, and when a widow offers him a living space on her farm, he is appreciative. However, the widow becomes the victim of a phishing scam and looses everything (including the funds of a charity she manages). She becomes very distressed and commits suicide. Clay seeks revenge, using his connections to locate the business who scammed the widow and he takes it out of commission.
However, this scammer business is just the tip of the iceberg. He finds out it is just one of many similar low level operations in a powerful criminal organization. When the organization decides to fight back against him, he traces the connections up to more powerful shell organizations, trying to find who is in charge of it all. In the meantime, the widow’s daughter (Emmy Raver-Lampman) happens to be an FBI agent who had been seeking out this criminal organization. While her goals and Clay’s are somewhat aligned, she has to act within the guidelines of the law where Clay is free to do as he pleases.
Clay’s vendetta becomes increasingly bloody. The organization fights back in desperation, trying to keep those at the top of the pyramid safe from his rampage. At the center of it all is a spoiled wealthy scion (Josh Hutcherson) who enlists the services of a top-level CIA director (Jeremy Irons) for his self defense. As a result, Clay has to combat some of the most deadly operatives in existence, and for the most part it is child’s play for him. If anything that is kind of what sets this film apart from Statham’s other escapades; never once does he feel like he is in any danger. It gives the film a sense of morbid irony above the basic thrill of simply taking out annoying bad guys.
Even when his adversaries know he is coming to get them, Clay is still unstoppable. They go through the motions of trying to do everything in their power to stop him, but don’t actually follow through. This plays into the parody aspect. Most of the time he is unarmed. He just appears in places he shouldn’t be, unconcerned about the logistics of getting there without being stopped. On multiple occasions he could have been taken out if his adversaries were even a fraction as competent as he is. That’s the rub. Even with everything in their favor, movie bad guys still find a way to mess it up. Or perhaps Statham’s Clay is simply trained to somehow conjure unfathomable luck in his plight for survival.
What I am saying is this film is intentionally low on logic. In many ways it is a throwback to simpler macho revenge films of the 1980’s that existed purely for the reason of getting to watch bad people ultimately get what they deserve. But the way that The Beekeeper plays off of those stereotypes is what adds interest beyond the base entertainment level, and sets it above the scores of similar films that don’t spend much (if any) time in theaters. Indeed, what makes The Beekeeper so watchable is the way Clay’s adversaries glow about him. The film has constant reminders of how awesome he is, and this reassurance goes above and beyond simply cheering for a burly dude with cut off sleeves who happens to be fighting the good fight.
In terms of actual action sequences, the film’s choreography and production values are not as impressive as they could be. It doesn’t expand its fight sequences to ridiculous extremes the way John Wick or any newer Mission: Impossible film does. There are some ingenious moments, but by and far the film isn’t trying to convey itself as stunt-forward per se. Most of the violence is Statham simply punching people, and dodging bullets. The action isn’t there necessarily for the purpose of being innovative or flashy. In this way it maintains that throwback connection to simpler action films of the 80’s, and in a cinematic landscape overrun by excess, maybe that’s refreshing.
Thankfully, the film makes up for its lack of cutting edge material by exuding flamboyant eccentricities. Director David Ayer conjures up a bright comic-book inspired production design which maybe alludes to the missing ingredient the studio had edited out of his Suicide Squad. From wacky 80’s inspired costumes, to contrasting dark and bright lights, and a sort of hazy glowing cinematography, the film shows you it isn’t taking itself too seriously. Josh Hutcherson chews up scenery as the overindulgent main antagonist, making it abundantly clear the film doesn’t want any reservations about how the audience feels about him. Meanwhile Statham himself churns out witty and pun-filled lines with a straight face, exactly as you’d expect.
Frankly, I think it’s a good thing to have a film that is entertaining while maybe not necessarily trying anything new. The Beekeeper has that nostalgic buzz, which combined with traditional action-movie thrills is enough to merit a watch. But it actually does push towards poignancy if you view it as satire meant as contrast to all those overblown action films which have mostly sunk in theaters lately. The Beekeeper is an homage to simpler times, when you didn’t need to blow audiences’ minds to make them smile. A little charm and lowered sights is just plenty.