The Missed Potential of 'The Beekeeper' Really Stings

Directed by David Ayer

Starring Jason Statham, Josh Hutcherson, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Jeremy Irons, Bobby Naderi, Jemma Redgrave, David Witts, Phylicia Rashad

Photo courtesy of VVS Films

BY Marko DjurdjićPublished Jan 12, 2024


At this point in his career, Jason Statham is an institution — a somewhat floundering but nevertheless recognizable (and surprisingly bankable) institution. This fact does not shield him from making garbage films, nor does it absolve him when he does, and The Beekeeper is yet another slight against cinema that you can add to his ever-growing list of sins.

In The Beekeeper, Statham plays Adam Clay, a former agent for an off-the-books CIA offshoot called the Beekeepers. Retired and living peacefully with Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad), a friend who has put him up on her rural property, Clay spends his days tending to bees and making honey. One day, Eloise falls prey to a phishing scam perpetrated by a villainous pack of cyber-bros led by Josh Hutcherson's lead dickhead Derek Danforth, and in her desperation, commits suicide. This act puts Clay on the righteous path of revenge against the company responsible for her death.

Caught in the fray are Eloise's granddaughter, FBI agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman), who is torn by her own desire for justice; Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), former head of the CIA and Derek's glorified babysitter; Agent Matt Wiley (Bobby Naderi), Verona's partner; and Jemma Redgrave as Derek's long-suffering politician mother.

As the film opens, Statham is unexpectedly quiet and sincere, which paints a refreshing and unique picture of the mega-action star. This is also one of the saddest parts of this whole affair: Statham actually has some fine acting chops. He's subdued, even tender, and it would have been a very welcome change to see him in a movie where he just plays a beekeeper. Instead, we are once again subjected to watching him transform into another nameless agent of some governing body with a secret past and exceptional bone-crushing and gun-toting skills.

During the credits, images of books on bees are superimposed over those relating to American history, with the penultimate image showing a beehive as an American flag. This kind of ham-fisted imagery is director David Ayer's livelihood, and Kurt Wimmer's script doubles down, going heavy on the bee and hive metaphors, even before the film explains its own lore to the audience. The Beekeeper, who are secret government operatives, strive to "protect the hive" — i.e. American society and its various values — at all costs. They have a blatant disregard for property or the lives of others, keeping the supposed peace by employing everything from explosives to rotary machine guns. This backstory is handled surprisingly well, even if tongue is planted firmly in both cheeks.

The tech-bro villains are cartoonish and lurid, and one, Mickey Garnett (David Witts), is clearly modelled after Martin Shkreli, the piece of shit pharma bro and financial criminal. These slimy pricks get their comeuppance in some surprisingly gruesome and eventful ways, but even in key moments, the film apes scenes and plot points from better action films, most of which star national treasure Keanu Reeves, including John Wick and Point Break.

The film has some promising moments, particularly in the first act: it takes less than 30 minutes to get right into the action, wherein Statham enters the phishing centre to wreak havoc through his highly-trained brand of vigilante justice. Deliciously evil Jeremy Irons has the film's best line ("Metaverse meth lab"), and it's great to see him chew up the scenery. 

Although based on real world issues — cyber-crime, corruption, bro culture — the premise feels consciously ridiculous, even goofy. Ayer amplifies the worst of tech culture to the nth degree, all gawdy posturing and terrible clothes. It's ludicrous and entertaining, shameless in its graphic violence and implausibility. (You want a coherent plot? Shut up! How's that for plot?!)

The tension in the phishing scene is way more effective and nauseating than it has any right to be, and a number of buildings and bodies explode for good measure, even if the CGI is atrocious — it is an Ayer film, after all. It's all big dumb fun until it isn't, especially when it gets to its critical portion.
Ultimately, the film's politics, its conceit and its very message are flawed and muddled. The Beekeeper shows rampant corruption reaching the highest levels of government, but while it tries very hard to condemn America's current state of affairs, its simplistic, reductive views on election fraud and nepotism end up feeling overbearing and hollow. 

It seems as though Ayer is torn by his desire to appeal to both liberal and conservative agendas, and he navigates the razor-thin divide as if it were a gulf, bouncing uncomfortably between anarchic vigilantism and flag-waving apologism. The film depicts the sort of widespread state corruption that only action movies believe they have the proverbial balls to reveal, and yet, its absolution of high-ranking politicians, which effectively renders them oblivious and remorseful, is naïve and irresponsible. Movies are allowed to be bad, but when they're this stupid, illogical and insulting, they don't get a pass.

By film's end, the inane story and repetitive action grows dull because it's all so derivative and conspiratorial. It is relentless in its mediocrity, droning on and on through an endless parade of frantic fisticuffs and abysmal, stilted dialogue. When the film's Big Reveal arrives, it barely registers as shocking because you've seen it coming from hundreds of thousands of miles away (and in the film's promotional materials).

Ultimately, The Beekeeper is little more than a forgettable, "straight-to-video" bruiser masquerading as something worthy of being on the big screen, and Ayer once again proves why he's of the industry's biggest hacks, an anti-auteur whose persistent aspirations for cinematic greatness need to be thwarted ASAP. How this man keeps getting funding and work is beyond comprehension. Bee warned.

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