Truth be told, I had little to no interest in seeing The Beekeeper. While I love action films, I felt burnt out by Jason Statham’s most recent run of movies, including The Meg 2, Operation Fortune, and Expend4bles. My chief complaint about Statham was that he always played characters that were too perfectly tailored to his persona and that his fight scenes had become predictable, with him rarely facing off with an opponent that seemed like a credible threat. Thus, I had no qualms about assigning the review to one of our other critics, Tyler Nichols, who did a great job with his (positive) write-up. To be clear, don’t consider this a “review”. It’s more an an editorial.
So why did I bother seeing The Beekeeper if I thought I’d hate it and had no intention of reviewing it? Simple – I was bored on Saturday afternoon. With nothing to do, I decided to check out a matinee, primarily because I read a rave review of Kurt Wimmer’s script a little while ago, which promised the film was far from routine. Yet, as much as I like Equilibrium, Wimmer’s name isn’t always a sign of quality to me, with him one of the guys behind Expend4bles. My preconceived notions about the film were wrong – The Beekeeper is one of Jason Statham’s best movies.
If you’ve only seen the trailers, you might not get what’s so special about this movie. By necessity, the trailers don’t reveal the various twists and turns that make this a quasi-classic. There’s a reason Amazon/MGM did sneak previews last weekend and why it’s set to make more on its first weekend than Expend4bles did in its entire North American run. People are loving this movie.
Kurt Wimmer’s script could have been easy to screw up, but this movie has the perfect combo both behind and in front of the camera. David Ayer’s direction is impeccable, with him clearly understanding the assignment. In many ways, this is a loving homage to Cannon Pictures and their run-of-action movies from the eighties. Those movies had incredibly high concepts (such as the Soviets trying to start WW3 in Invasion USA), and the fact that they never quite had the budget to back up their ambitions was part of their charm. But, Ayer’s got the skill and funding to follow The Beekeeper’s wildly ambitious premise to its gonzo, off-the-wall conclusion, with this initially routine revenge movie eventually having nearly apocalyptic, country-destabilizing stakes in the finale.
In some ways, it might help to think of The Beekeeper as a slasher film, with Statham’s Adam Clay an unstoppable behemoth in the vein of Jason or Freddy Krueger. You would almost feel bad for the villains were they not such a thoroughly despicable group, with Josh Hutcherson delivering a legitimately excellent performance as the tech bro from hell. He plays the head of a data mining company that cleans out the bank accounts of the elderly, only for them to target a sweet old lady (played by the universally beloved Phylicia Rashad) who, unfortunately for the bad guys, happens to have been kind to Statham’s lonely beekeeper. These guys are so bad that not only do they clean out her bank accounts, but they also wipe out a children’s charity she runs, leaving her so distraught that she commits suicide. So right there, you want to see the bad guys pay – and boy do they.
But, where The Beekeeper’s true genius lies in how every action sequence builds on the last, with the stakes getting higher and higher, to the point that the FBI, the Secret Service, and the CIA are all trying to stop Clay. Why is he so skilled? He belongs to an ultra-secret network called The Beekeepers, who exist to keep the powers that be in check – via whatever means necessary. No one is above answering to the Beekeepers. If you think you know where this movie is going, you’d be wrong, with the last twenty minutes working as both pure carnage and a quasi-satire of modern action movies, with the mythology of The Beekeepers so “out there” that it feels like a winking send-up of The High Table from John Wick.
Through it all, Ayer keeps the pace propulsive, with a mic drop ending that had the audience I saw this with cheering. DP Gabriel Beristain gorgeously shoots it, and the cast is excellent, with Jeremy Irons playing against type as perhaps one of the most frightened (rather than frightening) movie bad guys of all time. Through it all, Statham is perfectly deadpan, and for once, his invincible side seems appropriate for the character, whose skills are portrayed as otherworldly. The film also contains one of Statham’s best fight sequences, where he finally meets his match in a mercenary (played by Taylor James in a hilariously “out there” performance) who once managed to kill a beekeeper (but lost a limb in the process). He even takes a bit of a beating towards the end, teasing a sequel where he could – potentially – go up against an equally skilled Beekeeper (someone like Scott Adkins would be great). Statham is legitimately terrific in it, finally getting an awesome, memorable hero to play for perhaps the first time since he stopped playing The Transporter. This could be his Rambo.
Granted, The Beekeeper may not be for everyone. It’s so over-the-top and unapologetic that it may not be for you if you prefer action movies grounded and straight-faced. The B-plot, where Rashad’s FBI agent daughter (played by Emmy Raver-Lampman) tries to stop Clay also never really works, as it’s hard to understand why she’d be hunting the man trying to avenge her mother’s death. Nevertheless, The Beekeeper is a gem that keeps building up steam and throws in everything but the kitchen sink. If you think you have it pegged, do yourself a favor and see it. The stakes are higher than you think, and it’s a non-stop, adrenaline-packed blast. Is it a B (or “bee) movie? Hell yes it is, but it’s been designed to be one of the best B-movies ever made. In someways it reminded me of Godzilla Minus Zero, in that it’s probably the best possible version of what they were trying to make with Minus Zero aiming to be the best ever Godzilla movie (mission accomplished). The aim here was the make the best damn Jason Statham B-action movie ever, and I think they just about pulled it off.