As much as January can serve as a dumping ground for leftover studio films while award players expand wider, there is a place for junky action movies. Now and again, there are even January action flicks that excel beyond what’s expected, like Taken, The Grey, or The Book of Eli. The Beekeeper is not a film I’d say excels past being junky. Actually, I’d say this Jason Statham movie grabs all the junk it can, runs it all the way down the line for a touchdown, and celebrates by reveling in its ridiculousness. I mean all that in a good way, as I was not prepared for how wild this movie would end up being based on where it starts. And yes, all this stems from a story about a man who enjoys tending to his bees.
Statham stars as Adam Clay, a former operative from a secret organization actually called “Beekeepers.” He’s put into action when one of the few people to ever be kind to him (Phylicia Rashad) becomes a victim of cybercrime. Taking things into his own hands, Clay finds one of the locations where these phishing scams are taking place and burns it down, but he doesn’t stop there. This man, who would much rather be taking care of his own hive, has made it a mission to take down all the corruption he sees in another hive, which will lead him all the way to the top.
Written by Kurt Wimmer and directed by David Ayer, choices are being made that push this movie past just being a revenge flick. Ultimately, it may boil down to Statham’s character wanting justice for his friend, but it’s the continually expanding scope of this film that had me far more entertained by what was occurring than I expected. In that sense, The Beekeeper ends up feeling like a 90s action movie throwback, specifically. It’s the kind of film that tosses around gruff characters for the sake of delivering one-liners, features just enough side characters to appreciate the comedic banter to keep the momentum going, and relies on high enough stakes for a film that’s very empty to merely feel like it’s about something.
On top of this, you still have the action to look forward to. Now, I can’t say I’ve had a ton of admiration for Ayer’s work as a director. With that in mind, his better efforts suggest he knows what to do in combining his gritty sensibilities with a sense of place. Fortunately, having Statham to work with means knowing he has an action star familiar with how all this stuff works. Does that mean it’s all angled to make Statham look constantly amazing in action? Of Course. Is it still effective? Very much so.
At 56, still in great shape, even as he wears a scruffier beard compared to his usual five o’clock shadow, Statham is entirely at home in the way he’s used to being here. Compared to Jackie Chan or Keanu Reeves’ work in the John Wick films, Statham is not a guy who’s on the defensive or takes hits but keeps going. He’s steps ahead of his challengers and rarely takes a hit. That’s no different in The Beekeeper, as Clay doesn’t even come close to breaking a sweat for much of the film but still makes the beatings he delivers a lot of fun.
Given that Clay has minimal dialogue (the guy is mostly all action), this film delivers a plethora of side characters to explain the plot and crack-wise in various ways. There’s not much to expand on here beyond making it clear that Josh Hutcherson plays the spoiled, drug-abusing, tech-savvy son of someone important, and Statham is after him. Jeremy Irons is around trying to fix this situation and is given plenty of nice suits to wear while doing so (by contrast, Statham is mostly in civilian clothes compared to his nice suits from The Transporter films, but eventually gets to dress up).
Outside the villains, there’s a surprisingly good amount of fun between two FBI agents. Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Verona Parker (daughter of Rashad’s character, whom Statham is trying to avenge) and Bobby Naderi’s Matt Wiley provide way more fun than one expects from this film. The two are constantly trading off quips and injecting personality into a movie that too often compensates for its tough-guy energy with characters yelling swears as frequently as possible.
If anything, one could argue The Beekeeper has issues holding onto a clear tone. It’s somewhat serious in presenting the inciting incident and Clay’s involvement. There’s a dark sense of humor regarding how Clay handles himself in threatening scenarios he goes up against. And then there’s the full-on comic book stuff, where other “Beekeepers” are brought in to take on Clay. One particular fight finds Clay at a gas station taking on an enemy dressed as if they just left Comic-Con and brought a minigun with them. Again, this movie is wild.
There’s an energy to The Beekeeper that keeps the hits coming and the kills brutal, yet the movie is pretty light on its feet. We don’t linger too long in any one place, and characters designed to be irritating are generally dispatched quickly after their introduction. Director Ayer, who is typically more confined to a few settings, takes this opportunity to go big and runs with it in inventive enough ways.
This is an R-rated feature that’s plenty colorful, offers a variety of set pieces, and knows how to let Statham do his thing. One could read into the politics of this film a bit (and do a double take regarding Clay’s logic regarding good and bad), but some aspects invite just enough nonsense comparisons to have you realize the film knows it just wants to stick in the middle and entertain its audience. In the end, that’s what The Beekeeper accomplishes – it provides the audience with another example of what Statham is good at while layering a bunch of crazy story ideas on top to keep everyone on their toes. It may not be as sweet as honey, but the buzz is strong enough with this one.