John Wick opened the world to the possibility that any person one passes on the street could be an elite killing machine. Studio executives took note, then greenlit any plausible script with a job title and a serviceable tagline. That’s only part of the equation, though. To carry an outlandish premise, you need a convincing lead like John Wick had Keanu Reeves and Bullet Train had Brad Pitt. A movie about a lethal beekeeper needs a commanding presence. Which is why Amazon/MGM hired Jason Statham to do two things: kick ass convincingly and deliver a killer one-liner.
Working for Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad) on her ranch, Adam Clay (Jason Statham) does his beekeeping work and goes about his day. They cordially refer to each other as Mr. Clay and Mrs. Parker. The relationship between them is formal, but they grow fond of each other, which makes her untimely passing devastating. All it took was one pop-up, and her life savings were gone. Rather than face the indignity of losing her home and her children’s charity, Mrs. Parker dies in a suicide. Enraged that corruption has taken a life, Clay sheds his button-down, professional manner and adopts a new attitude.
He storms into an office park, announces his violent intentions, and demands security stop him. They don’t because Clay was a former operative of the Beekeepers, a clandestine last resort for the world’s biggest problems. Clay easily dispenses the guards and sets fire to the organization’s computers. One foolish employee inserts himself into the situation and regrets it immediately. Terrified, he waits for Clay to demolish him, but he doesn’t–yet–and so begins a roller-coaster ride buzzing with illogical action.
Admittedly, no one watching The Beekeeper in January should question the physics of Statham kicking ass. However, one scene where Clay ties a call center operative to a truck that is speeding into a river left me wondering how he wasn’t a human slinky after slamming head-first into the truck bed.
What starts as a one-off of revenge becomes a nationwide road trip for vengeance as Clay goes branch by branch, destroying the criminal enterprise. There’s not much more to write about the plot. It’s not original or innovative, but filmgoers in January know what to expect by now. 20th Century Fox started a tradition when they released Taken on January 30, 2008. The trend continued as other action movies (Gran Torino, The Commuter, Den of Thieves) dominated a slow month annually. Like those flicks, The Beekeeper satisfies the audience’s craving to watch bad guys get what’s coming to them. Whether a roundhouse kick or a bludgeoning by stapler, this film delivers on its promise.
The problem with The Beekeeper is the villains. They should just be online dirtbags, but the stakes escalate to Clay taking on an international braintrust. Writer Kurt Wimmer presumes that wouldn’t be interesting enough, and he’s likely correct. Watching Clay wipe out business after business would hit a natural plateau for viewer engagement. Instead, these scam artists lead right to the top of the international criminal food chain: a shadowy cabal that runs the world through malware and phishing schemes. Every employee in the outfit is irredeemably evil. Top to bottom, no one shows any remorse. This flaw keeps the audience from asking if Clay ever crosses a line, even at his most brutal, but you wonder what the hiring process is to gather that many bastards into a single company. Unfortunately, the film stalls as soon as it explores the background and political motivations of the group.
The organization Clay hunts down doesn’t require explanation. No need for grim-faced executives droning through a monologue. You have Jeremy Irons right there. Who better to chew the scenery and elevate a scene than the man who played Simon Gruber and Scar? Additionally, Josh Hutcherson plays Derek Danforth, the very privileged, drugged-out, bitcoin-obsessed leader of the company that killed Mrs. Parker. Hutcherson has a lot of fun as Danforth, and he presents a unique ability to taunt and frustrate Clay. Danforth can call in favours from his former C.I.A. director (Jeremy Irons) and his mother, the President of the United States (Jemma Redgrave)—not kidding about that—to sic federal agents on Clay.
But that adds to the film’s detriment. The story drags following both FBI agents chasing Clay more than the litany of scenes featuring worried phone calls between Danforth operatives. Worse, one of the agents is Mrs. Parker’s daughter (Emmy Raver-Lampman). It makes no sense that she would be Clay’s chief antagonist in law enforcement, even under presidential orders. Wimmer added this element to round out the film, but it ends as a trimmable subplot no one would miss.
For a film that leans hard into replacing the over-the-top action vehicles the ’80s and ’90s regularly churned out, The Beekeeper also leans more self-aware. “To bee or not to bee” is an actual line in the film. Off of two underwhelming films (Suicide Squad, The Tax Collector), David Ayer brings more energy behind the camera here. Ayer commits to the bee motif, linking scenes of Clay harvesting from the bees to Eloise getting scammed and, later, when Clay uses honey to burn someone to death. The fight choreography is clean, easy to follow, and bone-crunching for the action purists. The biggest qualm with Ayer’s direction is the abrupt ending. It’s unclear if that cliffhanger serves to set up a sequel, but many people will likely leave the film confused.
Recommending films in the doldrums of January/February is grading on a curve. The Beekeeper won’t change your mind about Jason Statham, but for what the film is, it has fun with its premise and isn’t overly grim. With the exception of Ayer indulging several conspiracy theories mid-film, this would be a slam dunk recommendation. Still, with low expectations and a love of older action movies, the presence of Statham might convince you to see this in theatres instead of on Prime Video.