We’ve long lamented the dry spell of January releases that comes at the top of the year when all the awards contenders are in full campaign mode and studios can’t be bothered with what they have on the shelf. Most films during this time are approached with rightful trepidation, as the track record of successful, non-festival release films are aggressively mid at best. So you’d be right to approach “The Beekeeper” with caution and the nagging notion that it is a direct to video action flick of a past his prime action star. Thankfully (and certainly shockingly) “The Beekeeper” has much more going for it than you’d expect, and manages to rise above its early year theatrical slate and deliver a solid, entertaining, no holds barred action flick. This is some of Jason Statham’s best work in years, and David Ayer’s least self-indulgent film in recent memory. “The Beekeeper” is surprisingly entertaining even if it’s expectedly stupid, self aware enough to lean into its action tropes and deliver some truly gnarly, bonebreaking action against everyone’s favorite modern punching bag: tech bros.
Directed by Ayer (“Suicide Squad,” “Fury“) and written by Kurt Wimmer (“Equilibrium,” “Expend4bles,”) “The Beekeeper” follows Adam Clay, (Jason Statham) a retired special operative of a clandestine organization called The Beekeepers living a quiet life in the countryside. He spends he days literally tending to bees, renting out a barn on his neighbor’s land. Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad) is kind to Clay, and they share a special familial bond. When Eloise is the victim of a phishing scam that cleans out not just her accounts but the charity accounts she manages, she takes her own life. This of course brings Clay back into action, forced to take up his old life as a “beekeeper” operative and embark on a path of revenge. The further down he goes, the larger the web of lies and predators becomes, and he must unravel it all with the FBI hot on his trail as he continues to leave destruction in his wake seeking the top of the food chain. The film also stars Emmy Raver-Lampman, Jeremy Irons, Josh Hutchinson, Jemma Redgrave, and Minnie Driver for some inexplicable reason.
I’m sure there’s plenty that can be said about “The Beekeeper’s” underlying themes and subtext. The empathy of boomers vs gen Z in the face of ever evolving technology, the scathing critique of tech bros and narcissism paired with unwarranted power granted to their control over our lives with every new advance, the very reliance on technology as both the progression and destruction of our society, the need for complete disruption of the systems from those outside of it. Money, greed, power, corruption etc are all scattered about Wimmer’s script (and on brand in just about every way) and given some heft from the direction of Ayer who constantly wants to be taken seriously despite making shit like “Sabotage” and touting some 30 versions of his rightfully maligned “Suicide Squad” snafu. While all of that may be baked into this rather surface level action flick, that’s not why anyone comes to see “The Beekeeper.” No, we come to watch Statham kick ass and chew bubblegum, and thankfully this time he’s all out of bubblegum.
Ayer knows action when given the opportunity to get gritty, and he’s completely untethered by any larger IP in “The Beekeeper.” I’m gonna stay the “John Wick” comparisons (which are many) and just say that both Wimmer and Ayer know how to use Statham to their advantage. He’s long been the invincible warrior, the man on a mission who can’t be stopped, and “The Beekeeper” perfectly frames the brutality in exciting ways that often overshadow any sort of narrative faults. Statham excels in brutal violence, the kind where the hero is just one karate chop quicker and one idea ahead of anyone that comes his way. There’s no threat that our hero won’t succeed in his mission, and we’re more so watching to see how he accomplishes his goals and frankly, how he dispatches goons that get in his way. For that, “The Beekeeper” has it spades, with Statham annihilating anyone and everyone that even thinks they have a shot in landing a punch. Ayer is crafty in his action framing, avoiding the shaky cam and wide shots to keep us locked in to every confrontation and fisty cuffs battle.
I’m not quite sure what Ayer has on Jeremy Irons to get him to not just be in “The Beekeeper,” but actually play a pivotal role in the story AND get him to not phone it in when he has every right to do so. Hutchinson is pretty solid as a swarmy nepo-baby tech bro, a kind of amalgamation of everything we hate about every stereotype laid upon these kinds of dudes. I am convinced that Minnie Driver was never actually set. They just found her at a dinner party and asked her to record a couple of lines on a cellphone and she said yes because the cocktail line was too long. Honestly, it’s Bobby Naderi that kind of steals the show as one of the reluctant FBI agents following Statham. Depsite some strange and perhaps underutilized characters, everyone in “The Beekeeper” understood the assignment. Any misgivings or underdeveloped aspects of their work is due to Wimmer’s script, who often has a tendency to gloss over character development for most if not all his characters, particularly supporting roles that are often relegated to archetypes at best.
The only real question here is whether or not “The Beekeeper” is fun, and I’d have to say emphatically yes. It’s not even the best of its kind, and without seeing more than the trailer you could probably telegraph it all from start to finish and have a pretty high success rate of accuracy. There is nothing particularly unique about “The Beekeeper,” and it will feel right at home on TNT or FX whenever it ends its theatrical and streaming run. But what it lacks in originality it makes up for in just good old fashioned action mayhem, the kind of film we used to crave in the early 2000s and we don’t get often enough. “The Beekeeper” has no delusions of grandeur (even its creators often do) and delivers a taut, no nonsense action thriller that never overstays its welcome and never spends too much time in needless exposition.
I’m not going as far as to say “The Beekeeper” is a good movie. It is still fitting as a January release, and would probably do gangbusters on streaming instead of at the box office. However, the lack of options may end up helping it succeed, and I wouldn’t be mad if it does well enough to warrant a sequel. Ya, it’s that much fun, a return to form for Statham and an apology for the disastrous, unwatchable “Expend4bles.” It doesn’t quite make up for it, but it’s a start.
If you’re looking for a good times at the movies and just want to turn on, tune in, and drop off while you shovel popcorn into your mouth for a brisk 90s minutes, “The Beekeeper” is the perfect fare.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
“The Beekeeper” is in theaters January 12th. You can watch the trailer below.